Influential people and the books that influenced them

Mark Zuckerberg (© AP Images)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg first studied his favorite book, The Aeneid, in a Latin class in secondary school. (© AP Images)

Whether they are read on a tablet computer or as a well-thumbed paperback, books can have a big impact on us. Look at the books that have meant the most to five prominent people.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO

The Aeneid by Virgil

You might not expect a tech king to reach back to the classical era for his favorite, but Zuckerberg frequently mentions his fondness for the story of Rome’s founding and the lessons taught by the struggles of its hero, Aeneas. He quoted The Aeneid in a Facebook product conference, and in an interview with Wired invoked the story’s most famous line: “A joy it will be one day, perhaps, to remember even this.”

Donald Trump at podium (© AP Images)
President Trump before a joint session of Congress (© AP Images)

Donald Trump, president of the United States

The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale

While President Trump has cited the Bible as his favorite book, he has repeatedly pointed to this 1952 volume as an influence on both him and his father. Peale was minister at the church Trump attended with his family, and the best-seller’s advice for successful living made a strong impression on the young president-to-be.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
Book illustration of Gulliver tied down with labeled ribbons (Library of Congress)
A satirical illustration of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s favorite book, Gulliver’s Travels, adapted to the Second Boer War (Library of Congress)

Tyson calls Jonathan Swift’s satirical 1726 novel his favorite novel of all time. The astrophysicist and science writer told the New York Times that he often reflects on the odd assortment of characters in the novel. “I will not soon forget the misguided scientists of the Grand Academy of Lagado beneath the levitated Island of Laputa, who invested great resources posing and answering the wrong questions about nature.”

Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and philanthropist

Bill Gates smiling (© AP Images)
Gates called The Better Angels of Our Nature “one of the most important books I’ve read.” (© AP Images)
The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker

The co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation praised Pinker’s book. “The book is about violence, but paints a remarkable picture that shows the world has evolved over time to be a far less violent place than before,” Gates said in his blog. “It offers a really fresh perspective on how to achieve positive outcomes in the world.”


Malala Yousafzai speaking (© AP Images)
Yousafzai read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz while she recovered from the attempt on her life. (© AP Images)

Malala Yousafzai, activist for female education, youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

Yousafzai’s advocacy for women’s education attracted global attention when, at the age of 15, she was shot by the Taliban for her work. A voracious reader, Yousafzai singled out Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist as a hopeful and inspiring book. “It tells the story of a boy who embarks on a journey to find a treasure,” she told the New York Times, “but as he goes along, he learns from every part of his journey and every person he meets.” She said books have the ability to “capture injustices in a way that stays with you and makes you want to do something about them. That’s why they are so powerful.”