You Are What You Read: 14 Thought Leaders Share Their Bookshelves


Photo: Ozyman

The following is a guest post by Shane Snow, a frequent contributor to Wired and Fast Company. It includes photographs of some fun bookshelves, including yours truly (Tim Ferriss). CLICK ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.

Enter Shane

They say a person’s eyes are “the window to the soul.”

I am not very good at pupil-based soul-reading, but I’ve found that I can learn a lot about a person by the books on his or her shelf. When I go to someone’s house or office for the first time, my favorite thing to do is check out the bookshelf.

Here’s what’s on mine:

(click to enlarge any and all photos in this post)

Storytelling is a powerful force, as I’m a fan of reminding people. Stories—fiction and non—make ideas stick; they change minds and shape us in often subconscious ways. I believe the mind of a well-read person is heavily influenced by the books of her past.

A few weeks ago, I decided to conduct a little experiment.

I emailed a few friends and people I admired and asked them if I could see photographs of their bookshelves (or book stacks or Kindle screens). Just about everybody said, “yes.” The experiment soon metastasized, and I started pestering thought leaders in spaces I followed–tech, advertising, philanthropy–to see what books the innovators cared enough about to allot real estate.

Soon, I had more photos than I knew what to do with. Here are some of my favorites:


Hilary Mason, Chief Scientist at and one of the smartest women in American tech


Fred Wilson, Partner at Union Square Ventures and the man responsible for investments in Tumblr, Etsy, CodeAcademy, KickStarter, Meetup, Soundcloud, Twitter, Behance, and StackExchange…

He sent me this one:

But I actually found this closeup in his Flickr photostream, too:


Guy Kawasaki, Bestselling Author of Enchantment, A.P.E., and a dozen other terrific books


Mike Lazerow, Founder of Buddy Media (sold to Salesforce last year for $700 million)


Mitch Kanner, Owner of 2Degrees and one of Ad Age’s “hottest rolodexes” in advertising (this guy hooks people like Jay-Z up with deals like Samsung’s million-album download)


Jonah Berger, Bestselling Author of Contagious and “virality” guru


Claire Ortiz-Diaz, head of Social Innovation at Twitter and one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People In Business


Dharmesh Shah, CTO of Hubspot and founder of OnStartups, and one of the most humble leaders you’ll ever meet


Dave Kerpen, Bestselling Author of Likeable Business and founder of Likeable Media (also the highest-trafficked LinkedIn Influencer in the world)


Cindy Gallop, renowned advertising executive and founder of IfWeRanTheWorld and MakeLoveNotPorn


Adam Grant, Bestselling Author of Give And Take and purveyor of revolutionary ideas about work and success


Clara Shih, CEO of Hearsay Social and board member of Starbucks (elected at age 29)


Jeffrey Walker, philanthropist and Chairman of JPMorgan Chase Foundation and author of the forthcoming book The Generosity Network


And I certainly couldn’t leave out Tim Ferriss, whose penchant for anime happens to be his secret weapon for language-mastery:


Interestingly enough, the book I referenced in the beginning about stories making ideas stick (Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath) shows up several times in this gallery. There are a few other repeats if you look carefully!

Of course, there were a number of well-read people whose bookshelves I’d love to get a peek at (but unfortunately couldn’t get a hold of). In particular, I wish I could check out the shelves belonging to the following five:

Arianna Huffington

Elon Musk

Martha Stewart

Joss Whedon

Cory Booker (and not just because of the name!)

We’re all a product to some degree of the books we read, the programs we watch, and the people we meet. In the comments, I’d love to discuss: What books from this gallery jumped out at you? Whose bookshelves above do you identify with in particular?

And, perhaps most importantly, what are the most important 2-3 books on your bookshelf?

Posted on: October 21, 2013.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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193 comments on “You Are What You Read: 14 Thought Leaders Share Their Bookshelves

    • Tim, noting what Jeff just said. If you or Shane had put links to Amazon below the images, I sense there would be a lot of instant purchases, cheers, David
      P.S. I just thought these instant sales could go towards one of your great philanthropic projects : )
      P.P.S. Great idea for an article Shane, books show what is influencing other people and photos of a person’s bookshelf is like seeing into their mind.


  1. I loved seeing seth godin and the power of habit books.

    My top 2-3 books are Switch by chip and Dan health.
    The now habit by Niel Fiore
    Models by Mark Manson

    I also go on and check out the ones that are above 7/10. I am waiting for Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert.


  2. Great post! I love checking out bookshelves. It’s one of the first things I do when I’m in a new place (if there’s one there, of course). I also love reading lists. What a great idea to showcase these from some well-known people.

    My personal “standard works” include these wonderful allegories:
    Jonathan Livingston Seagull (seeking perfection)
    The Little Prince (love and so much more)
    Flatland (open-mindedness)
    The Alchemist (travel, adventure, doing what you are driven to do)
    The Greatest Salesman in the World (crafting yourself into the person you want to be)
    Siddhartha (reading this one now; it’s about listening to your soul, life journeys and cycles, and more)

    I really like these allegorical stories. If anyone has other suggestions for me, I’d love to hear them.


  3. I always love finding out what is on people’s reading lists as I am a huge book reader. Some of my favorites on my shelf include besides the 4-hour work week, The Indian Slow Cooker (who knew making Indian food could be so easy), 48 Laws of Power and Mastery both by Robert Greene, The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg, 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, and Gettng Everything You Can Out Of All You’ve Got by Jay Abraham. My library is really huge, but those are some of my top ones right now.


    • Yes, I am presently reading Mastery by Robert Greene, and like it a lot, one of the most powerful books for understanding patterns of characters is the Enneagramm by Richard Rohr, then there is The power of habit by Charles Duhigg.
      Very important for inspiration is The Pythons autobiography of The Pythons, but I am reading novels like Pratchett and Game of Thrones (yes, it was a book before it became the TV series) with much delight.


  4. Important books on my bookshelf:

    1. How to win friends and influence People.
    2. The Power of Habit.
    3. Give and Take.
    4. How an economy grows and why it crashes.
    5. Free: The future of a radical price.
    6. The Millionaire Fastlane, Crack the Code to Wealth and Live Rich for a Lifetime.

    Thanks for giving such wonderful book collections and links :)


  5. Books that jumped: The Power of Half on Adam Grant’s bookshelf and all the books in Mike Lazerow’, so curious about their titles! “The Secrets of Happy Families” and “How” – totally judging by the cover/titles here btw.

    I identify myself with books by Seth Godin, Cal Newport and Malcolm Gladwell and specially The Element by Sir Ken Robins. They defend me, put me in place, encourage me and push me forward. Hey Tim, 4HWW too! half way through the book today. (*brownie points*)

    Bookshelves a graphic designer like myself identifies with: Shane Snow’s- Scott Pilgrim and Tim Ferris’ 4HB, what!


  6. Fascinated to see all the non-fiction. I wonder if these book shelves were prepped before they were photographed? I can’t imagine that’s ALL the books on their shelves.

    Couple that have really influenced me:

    1- Ram Dass – Be Here Now
    2- Gregory David Roberts – Shantaram
    3 – Herman Hesse – Siddhartha


  7. The 4-Hour Trilogy, of course. I thought I was joking at first, but now that I’ve thought about it, these books have been teaching me pretty much everything I need to know or want to know in life (including hunting and gathering).

    Thank you, Mr. Ferriss!


  8. This is an amazing list Tim.

    I do have a few books by Seth Godin and many books by other authors.

    I’ll get these ones ASAP.


    In the words of Seth Godin, “It’s not an accident that successful people read more books”.