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Steve Jobs’ Favorite Books Of All Time


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Key points

  • While Steve Jobs famously once said that ‘people don’t read anymore,’ he wasn’t one of them. The innovator, salesman, and tech and marketing visionary was also a prolific reader with a penchant for poetry, Bauhaus, and Zen Buddhism.

  • Steve Jobs is most known for turning personal technology into a cultural touchstone by creating a cutting-edge and user-friendly brand identity that made Apple products the must-have accessory of the 21st century. 

  • It’s not surprising that people want to know how Jobs did it — and his unique lifestyle has become as much a part of his legend as the products he pioneered. 

  • Some top books on Steve Jobs’ reading list include Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe, and The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen.

Walter Isaacson’s 2013 biography Steve Jobs takes an unprecedented look at the books that first made him think differently. Many of the titles in Isaacson’s book offer disruptive new ways of thinking on diet, mindfulness, Eastern philosophy, alternative medicine, culture, and politics. In fact, unlike Bill Gates’ list, there are very few tech and business-related titles among his favorite books.

To get to the bottom of what inspired a most capable individual to the heights of human ingenuity, we’ve compiled this list of 13 inspirational books Steve Jobs had read himself and would recommend to others.

Read on for a list of books the late and great Steve Jobs numbered as his favorites. 

1. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda 

Autobiography of a Yogi is a beautifully written account of an extraordinary life and a profound introduction to the ancient science of Yoga and its time-honored tradition of meditation. This acclaimed autobiography presents a fascinating portrait of one of the great spiritual figures of our time. With engaging candor and wit, Paramahansa Yogananda tells the inspiring chronicle of his life.

This autobiography is at the top of Steve Jobs’ book list as he arranged to gift a copy to everyone who attended his memorial service. Yogananda was responsible for introducing many westerners to Hindu spirituality, meditation, and Yoga, famously including Beatle George Harrison. Jobs read Yoganda’s work for the first time as a teenager, and Autobiography was the only book he downloaded to his iPad.

2. The Way of the White Clouds by Lama Anagarika Govinda

Part spiritual guide and part travelog, The Way of the White Clouds recounts the author’s travels through Tibet before the Chinese invasion when pilgrimage to the country became largely impossible. 

Govinda’s account is a poetic story of exploration and discovery as well as a sensitive interpretation of Tibetan traditions. The Way of the White Clouds is composed of elements from several genres — spiritual journals, adventure narratives, anthropological field reports, and philosophical commentaries. This Steve Jobs book is a document about a place and a way of thinking that is virtually defined by its mysteries.  

Govinda was a German man who converted to Buddhism when few Westerners made this journey. The poetic writing and personal photographs that fill the book bring his experiences to life. The Way of White Clouds adds to the growing selection of spiritual books that inspired Steve Jobs over the years. 

3. Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe

Diet for a Small Planet covers rules for a healthy diet and many recipes for protein-rich meals that do not include meat. Sharing her evolution and how this groundbreaking book changed her life, world-renowned food expert Frances Moore Lappé offers an all-new, even more fascinating, philosophy on changing yourself—and the world—by changing the way you eat.

Jobs became a vegetarian after reading this book. As Jobs’ spirituality was a large part of his story, so were his notoriously strict eating habits and enthusiasm for extreme fasts. A lot of this started when he read Lappe’s work in college. Jobs credits Diet for a Small Planet with inspiring him to swear off meat fully.

4. Mucusless Diet Healing System by Arnold Ehret

Mucusless Diet Healing System is another of Steve Jobs’ favorite books on diet. It is an early text on the plant-based lifestyle, but with a slightly more graphic premise: mucus-causing foods are the source of most illnesses, and by eliminating them, we can heal the body. 

Professor Ehret has been referred to as the ‘father of naturopathy,’ and this book, which also advocates intermittent fasting, is seen as having paved the way for contemporary vegan diets. 

Walter Isaacson notes in the 2013 Steve Jobs biography that Jobs’ dietary habits became even more obsessive when he read this book.

5. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

A quintessential novel of America & the Beat Generation, On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac’s years traveling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady. As Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac’s love of America, compassion for humanity & sense of language as jazz combine to make On the Road a work of lasting importance. This classic novel of freedom & longing defined what it meant to be ‘Beat.’

Daniel Kottke, a friend Steve Jobs met in his first year at Reed College, shares that he and Steve Jobs read this book prior to the India trip.

6. Be Here Now by Baba Ram Dass

Jobs’ enthusiasm for Eastern spirituality was a defining aspect of his worldview, and Be Here Now is another seminal text that helped to popularize Yoga and meditation in the West. This book describes one man’s transformation upon his acceptance of the principles of Yoga and gives a modern restatement of the importance of the spiritual side of human nature. Ram Dass, an American-born academic who had a spiritual awakening after experimenting with LSD and inspired Jobs to visit India.

Isaacson writes that this book was one of the most profound texts on spirituality and enlightenment in Jobs’ life. He says Be Here Now transformed Jobs and many of his friends. 

7. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Moby Dick is an 1851 novel by Herman Melville. The story tells the adventures of the wandering sailor Ishmael and his voyage on the whaling ship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab seeks one specific whale, Moby Dick, a whale of tremendous size and ferocity white whale.

American writer Herman Melville’s epic novel is one of the novels that influenced young Steve. Walter Isaacson, who wrote the most comprehensive biography of Jobs, draws attention to the similarity between the character Captain Ahab and Steve Jobs in the novel. With Captain Ahab, Jobs followed a strategy of experience learning rather than sticking to institutions.

8. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trungpa

Another installment in Jobs’ vast spiritual library, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism warns seekers against the pitfalls of ego in the search for enlightenment. Trungpa, a Tibetan meditation master, advises that spirituality is not a process of self-improvement but rather of abandoning the self. This book argues that the ego is, by nature, essentially empty.

Trungpa’s incisive, compassionate teachings serve to wake society up from false comforts. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism has resonated with students of spirituality for nearly thirty years — and remains prevalent to this day. 

9. Meetings with Remarkable Men by G. Gurdjieff

These are the memoirs of the great mystic and teacher who inspired a generation of disciples and followers throughout the Second World War.

In Meetings With Remarkable Men, Gurdjieff introduces us to some of the companions he encountered in his travels to the most remote regions of Central Asia. With colorful episodes from his adventures, he brings to life the story of his relentless search for real and universal knowledge. The book can be read as a colorful narrative or psychological autobiography. Still, the reader can better appreciate the meaning of its contents concerning the expositions of his previously published ideas.

Isaacson cites Meetings With Remarkable Men as one of Steve Jobs’s favorite books. On Jobs’ spiritual journeys, he derived inspiration from others who had embarked on similar quests for knowledge. 

10. The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas

A bit lighter than some other spiritual guides on Steve Jobs’ reading list, this ‘underground classic’ is built around simple steps a person can take to live a more conscious and joyful life. 

Thaddeus Golas, a noted philosopher and self-proclaimed ‘lazy man’ who hung around San Francisco in the 1960s, emphasizes that spiritual development doesn’t have to be the grueling process of discipline and self-denial it’s sometimes made out to be.

11. Hindu Mysticism by S.N. Dasgupta

This 1927 classic is a systematic introduction to Hindu mysticism as it evolved in India through the ages. This book briefly outlines some of the most important types of mysticism, indicating their mutual relations, sometimes genetically and sometimes logically. These include early sacrificial, Upanisadic, Yogic, Buddhistic, and Classical as well as Popular Bhakti cult explaining concisely and clearly their main characteristics, basing the interpretations directly on the sources.

Hindu Mysticism was another book Steve Jobs is said to have read prior to his trip to India with his friend Daniel Kottke. 

12. The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas by Dylan Thomas

The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas contains poems that Thomas personally decided best represented his work. Born in 1914, Thomas is perhaps Wales’ best-known writer, widely considered to be one of the major poets of the 20th century, and many of his greatest poems, such as ‘Fern Hill’ and ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ remain among the nation’s favorites.

His legacy has continued to influence generations of writers, artists, and creative mavericks: Bob Dylan changed his last name from Zimmerman in an homage to the poet. The Beatles drew his likeness onto the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Christopher Nolan made “Do not go gentle into that good night” a narrative centerpiece of his film Interstellar.

This poetry collection is said to have inspired Jobs in his early years.

13. King Lear by William Shakespeare

King Lear is a famous tragedy play written by William Shakespeare. It depicts the slow descent into insanity of the main character King Lear. This play studies the correlation between appearances and reality.

In his last year of high school, Jobs read King Lear. He mentioned that at that time, he often listened to music and read mostly literary works unrelated to science and technology. The tragedy in King Lear was very impressive for the young Jobs. 

14. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki 

In the forty years since its original publication, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice has become one of the great modern Zen classics. Suzuki Roshi presents the basics — from the details of posture and breathing in zazen to the perception of nonduality — in a way that is not only remarkably clear but also resonates with the joy of insight from the first to the last page. 

It’s a book to reflect on repeatedly as an inspiration to practice.

During Steve Jobs’ first year at Reed College, Jobs befriended Daniel Kottke, who went on to work at Apple. Together they devoured books on spirituality and meditation. Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, is considered one of their favorites.

15. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen

The Innovator’s Dilemma is the only book related to both business and tech that consistently makes it on Steve Jobs’ reading list. The Innovator’s Dilemma is one of the most famous books chronicling how innovation takes place and why it’s common that market leaders and incumbents fail to seize the next wave of innovation in their respective industries. 

Christensen argues that in the pursuit of profit, companies will hold tight to tried-and-true best practices, and by doing so, they undermine their ability to respond to disruptive technologies. Apple is sometimes praised for avoiding this very common trap — which may be because Jobs was such a devoted student of Christensen’s book. 

Read Steve Jobs’ favorite books list with Headway

Whether you are looking to start a career in entrepreneurship and technology or want to further your education with valuable insights into spirituality, classic literature, and more, using an external resource may be necessary to help you learn faster.

The Headway app is designed specifically to work into your busy schedule. With this app, you can track your progress and gain valuable knowledge from the world’s greatest thinkers by reading or listening to short 15-minute summaries of thousands of books. 

Do you want to read Steve Jobs’ favorite books without sacrificing time away from your career and personal life? Or maybe you’d like to discover books that help you get more from your life? Download the Headway app for 15-minute summaries of the best books on Steve Jobs’ reading list!

FAQs

Which book inspired Steve Jobs?

This Steve Jobs reading list takes a comprehensive look at some of the diverse books that changed his life. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe, and The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen are a few books that are consistently considered to be some of Steve Jobs’ favorite books.

Did Steve Jobs read a lot?

While Steve Jobs famously once said that “people don’t read anymore,” he wasn’t one of them. The innovator, salesman, and tech and marketing visionary was also a prolific reader with a penchant for poetry, Bauhaus, and Zen Buddhism. His reading list is eclectic and gives insight into the visionary man who changed the world forever.

What Yogi book did Steve Jobs read?

At the 2011 memorial service of Steve Jobs, attendees were handed a small brown box on their way out that contained a copy of Paramahansa Yogananda’s book, Autobiography of a Yogi. According to Walter Isaacson’s biography, Jobs first read Autobiography of a Yogi as a teenager, then reread it in India and has read it once a year ever since. In 1974, Jobs traveled to India, seeking spiritual enlightenment. He had an incredible realization that his intuition was his greatest gift, and he needed to look at the world from the inside out.


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