A formidable figure in Silicon Valley, Peter Thiel has left a lasting impact on the worlds of technology, finance, and intellectual discourse. The iconoclastic venture capitalist and entrepreneur co-founded PayPal in 1998, revolutionizing online payment systems and the e-commerce landscape. His prescient investments include early stakes in Facebook, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Spotify and SpaceX.
Beyond his business acumen, Thiel is known as a contrarian and controversial thinker who’s challenged conventional wisdom via provocative essays and lectures. His book Zero to One expounds on innovative principles for startup success, becoming a seminal guide for aspiring entrepreneurs since its 2014 release. Thiel’s also been a vocal critic of certain aspects of contemporary society, including the higher education system and its impact on creativity and innovation.
In a reading list for The Week, Thiel outlined six of his favorite books that predict the future. From 1600s sci-fi to Tom Wolfe’s seminal exploration of the space race, find his recommendations below. Complement with the bookshelves of Elon Musk, Nassim Taleb, Richard Branson and Sam Altman.
Peter Thiel’s Reading List
“The weirdest idea anyone ever had about the future is that we should expect it to look like the past — but that’s what the reigning science of statistics assumes. Nassim Taleb has not been fooled; he is the single best guide to understanding uncertainty.” -PT
New Atlantis by Francis Bacon
“Today we take for granted what used to exist only in dreams. Francis Bacon dreamed of science and technology to make our lives better. We’ve gotten a lot done since, but New Atlantis is still futuristic, especially for science fiction from 1627.” -PT
The American Challenge by Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber
“In 1968, Servan-Schreiber predicted relentless economic growth for America; he wrote this book to wake up his European audience to the threat of eclipse. It was a controversial best-seller, but nobody argued with the premise. In the 1960s, everyone expected progress. This is the future we have lost.” -PT
“‘What is it, I wondered, that makes a man willing to sit up on top of an enormous Roman candle…and wait for someone to light the fuse?’ Wolfe asks that question in his classic about the test pilots who became the first astronauts. It’s both a great history of the space race and a meditation on how to steel yourself to take risks.” -PT
The Sovereign Individual by Lord William Rees-Mogg and James Dale Davidson
“This book breaks the taboo on prophecy: We’re not supposed to talk about a future that doesn’t include the powerful states that rule over us today. Rees-Mogg and Davidson argue that national governments could soon become as antiquated as 19th-century empires.” -PT
The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
“You can’t build new things just with technical know-how; you need imagination. Stephenson’s is boundless: This novel is not just the most entertaining book you can read about artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, it will inspire inventions your kids will use — or create.” -PT
(via The Week; photo by Chip Somodevilla)
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