The Books that Shaped Guests on Tim Ferriss’ Podcast

The favorite books of guests on Tim Ferriss' podcast

Tim Ferriss is a force to be reckoned with.

He’s created an incredible network, brand and set of experiences for himself. And he’s done it in a way that is excitingly accessible (Four Hour Body? I have four hours!). I’m not a devoted follower of him or his podcast like I am with the Twenty Minute VC, but it’s impossible to ignore the platform Tim’s built. Here’s a quick list of a few of the guests on his podcast:

  • Peter Thiel
  • Tony Robbins
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Jamie Foxx
  • Amanda Palmer
  • Edward Norton
  • B.J. Novak
  • Whitney Cummings

Heavy hitters.

Because his guests have achieved such phenomenal things, and because I received Tim’s new book Tools of Titans as a gift this year, I decided to visualize the favorite books of the guests in the same way I did with the Twenty Minute VC (unoriginal, I know, but this isn’t about art, it’s about pageviews)!

It may be easier to view on the Tableau Public site.

Fortunately, Faiz Munshi had already done much of the heavy lifting of parsing out the book recommendations from the show notes (thanks Faiz!!), so I didn’t have nearly as much data entry to wade through as I did with the 20VC (which is good, because do you have any idea what I bill out at?) (Just kidding. Speaking of which, the Amazon book links are affiliates, because I need money for coffee more than Jeff Bezos does).

The favorite books of guests on Tim Ferriss' podcast
Nassim Taleb killing it with Ferriss’ guests

There’s a lot of overlap from the 20 Minute VC, but there are certainly differences too. A few things jumped out at me from the data:

Ferriss’ Guests Love Nassim Taleb.

Nassim Taleb is the favorite author of guests on Tim Ferriss' podcast

I was excited to see this, because Taleb has been one of the most influential authors in my life. He can be a bit abrasive and pretentious (okay, really abrasive and pretentious) but he has some truly innovative ideas. I’d recommend reading Black Swan first, and if you like that then check out Fooled by Randomness and Antifragile.

Thought Leaders* Love Stoicism

Stoicism seems to be the latest in-vogue philosophy. From the little I know of it, it emphasizes only worrying about things you can control, and learning to stay balanced in what is certain to be a turbulent life. They seem like good ideas to me, and I was inspired to order Letters from a Stoic after seeing how profoundly stoicism has influenced Ferriss’ guests.

Ferriss also published Ryan Holiday’s excellent book Ego is the Enemy, which was super impactful to me in my personal life as well as professionally; and I know Holiday is heavily influenced by the stoics. I highly recommend checking that one out.

Most of the Books Focus on Big Ideas, Not Specific Problems

The majority of the books in this list deal with broad concepts and frameworks of thinking, and don’t get very detailed in their application. These books are the ones that generally change people’s way of thinking and make a huge impact on their lives, so it makes sense that they dominate the list. Black Swan did it for me, and many people have been similarly affected by Atlas Shrugged, Man’s Search for Meaning, The Alchemist etc.

It’s the rare book that can be both instructive on a granular level and life-altering on a profound level. I’d like to highlight those books, because I think they can be especially helpful to people who are just starting out, and I know from experience that it can be frustrating to read lots of big ideas without any idea how to immediately apply them.

I think that’s part of the brilliance of Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things, the favorite book of Twenty Minute VC guests— it manages to be both a broad manifesto for startup founders while still addressing the nitty-gritty of specific problems (exactly how to fire an executive, when and why to raise money, how to build out a sales team).

A huge part of Tim Ferriss’ own success, I think, is his ability to provide both concrete instruction and conceptual inspiration. His own 4 Hour Workweek is featured in the list, and it certainly does this: the broad concept is “you can design your life in a way such that you don’t need to work a full-time job rooted in one place until you retire, and it can lead to a better life to do so.” But he also addresses the details: exactly how to ask your boss for a remote work setup, exactly how to set up a dropshipping setup so that you can run an e-commerce company from anywhere, exactly how to use geo-arbitrage to live well on little money.

I’ve read the following books from the list and they are both conceptually inspirational and detailed in their instruction:

  • Brad Feld’s excellent Venture Deals which gives incredible advice on startup fundraising
  • The classic How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes
  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, which deconstructs how to make and break habits and is one of my favorite books of all time

Let me know what you think of the books/ what should be on the list!

If you’ve never used Audible before, you can listen to a couple of these books for free while testing it out; I am an obsessive Audible user and can’t recommend it enough.

And as usual, let me know if you want access to the raw data.

Also as usual, buy a whittling kit from me so that your friends will think you’re quirky and interesting and I will get a little surge of dopamine when I get the email notification that I can afford to go out to eat that night.

Thanks for reading!

*Term “Thought Leader” used with the appropriate amount of disgust

4 Comment

  1. Richard says: Reply

    This is awesome!

    I’m curious, why is your list different from Tim’s list of his guests’ favorite books on Tools of Titans?

    For example he said his guests loved Poor Charlie’s Almanack by Charlie Munger, but I don’t see that book on your list.

    By the way I’m not saying your list is wrong (I love it), I’m just curious if you know why that is.


    1. says: Reply

      Good question! I’m thinking it’s because my dataset is a little older (I think there were 8 or 9 episodes that I didn’t have data for). There also wasn’t a super clean way to scrape the data so I’m sure there are discrepancies between mine and Tim’s! Thanks for reading and for the question, I appreciate it.

  2. Mark Hovde says: Reply

    Great list. I have read most of Taleb, Harris, Feynman, Kahneman. Would add Harry Browne, a practical libertarian, to my favorites.

    1. says: Reply

      I need to check out Feynman! Never read it. I’ll check out Harry Browne as well. I just finished Sapiens, which was really cool, definitely recommend that

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