Nike founder Phil Knight has a passion for Asian history.
Apple's Steve Jobs reportedly had an “inexhaustible interest” in the books of William Blake — the mad visionary 18th-century mystic poet and artist.
If there is a C.E.O. canon, its rule is this: “Don’t follow your mentors, follow your mentors’ mentors,” suggests David Leach, chief executive of the American Medical Association’s accreditation division. Leach is reportedly partial to Aristotle.
“I try to vary my reading diet and ensure that I read more fiction than nonfiction,” says Michael Moritz, the venture capitalist who built a personal $1.5 billion fortune discovering the likes of Google, YouTube, Yahoo and PayPal. “I rarely read business books..."
Students of power should take note that C.E.O.’s are starting to collect books on climate change and global warming, not Al Gore’s tomes but books from the 15th century about the weather, Egyptian droughts, even replicas of Sumerian tablets recording extraordinary changes in climate, according to John Windle, the owner of John Windle Antiquarian Booksellers in San Francisco.
Darwin’s “Origin of Species” was priced at a few thousand dollars in the 1950s. “Then DNA became the scientific rage,” said Mr. Windle. “Now copies are selling for $250,000. But the desire to own a piece of Darwin’s mind is coming to an end. I have a customer who collects diaries of people of no importance at all. The entries say, ‘It was 63 degrees and raining this morning.’ Once the big boys amass libraries of weather patterns, everyone will want these works.”
Personal libraries have always been a biopsy of power. The empire-loving Elizabeth I surrounded herself with the Roman historians, many of whom she translated, and kept one book under lock and key in her bedroom, in a French translation she alone of her court could read: Machiavelli’s treatise on how to overthrow republics, “The Prince.” Churchill retreated to his library to heal his wounds after being voted out of power in 1945 — and after reading for six years came back to power.
Over the years, the philanthropist and junk-bond king Michael R. Milken has collected biographies, plays, novels and papers on Galileo, the renegade who was jailed in his time but redeemed by history.