As an entrepreneur and dreamer, I have always been influenced and intrigued by the lives of others. From a young age, I took a deep interest in reading biographies and autobiographies to better understand the psyche of the individuals that had such a profound impact on my view of the world. To this day, I continue to read these types of books because I believe in their power to teach me lessons from the greatest thinkers in our history.

Right now, I’m reading a book titled “The Most Productive People in History: 18 Extraordinarily Prolific Inventors, Artists, and Entrepreneurs, From Archimedes to Elon Musk” written by Michael Rank. Rank organizes the book into short stories about each inventor, writer, statesman, or entrepreneur and focuses in on how they were able to create such great amounts of productivity throughout their lives.

Support ConnorGillivan.com and purchase The Most Product People in History from Amazon today!

In this column, I share seven essential visionary biographies that I have read about individuals who committed their lives to ensuring that their dream become a reality and that they leave an impact on the way the world views given topics. If you are an entrepreneur or someone that longs to chase your own visions of the future, I highly encourage you to read this set of essential visionary biographies. Their stories will introduce you to common characteristics found in successful visionary entrepreneurs and inspire you to think bigger than you ever have.

If you are interested in purchasing any of the books today and want to support my writing efforts, please head over the Books section of the site where you can purchase each book for the cheapest that you will find online. For your convenience, I’ve also included the link at the end of each review in this column.

1. Steve Jobs written by Walter Isaacson

Summary

Isaacson paints the rise and fall of Steve Jobs as he founds Apple, is pushed out by the board that he hired, founds Next, supports the growth of Pixar, returns and revives Apple, launches the iPod, and eventually falls ill with cancer. Isaacson’s approach to sharing the story of Steve Jobs is based off of hundreds of interviews with friends, family, and Apple employees.

Review

I particularly liked this book because of the depth that Isaacson goes into for each and every detail of Steve Jobs’ life. We continue to be influenced by Jobs everyday through the inventions that he created and the company that is carried on in his footsteps by Tim Cook. Many know of Jobs as the man who invented the iPod and the Macintosh computer, but do they know the internal challenges that he went through in order to reach such greatness? This book can open your eyes to who Steve was behind the curtains.

Why Read It and What You’ll Learn

  • the advent of the computer industry
  • the brutality of the board of directors
  • the power of focus and determination
  • the inner psyche of Steve Jobs

Support ConnorGillivan.com and buy your copy of Steve Jobs at Amazon today!

2. Einstein: His Life and Universe written by Walter Isaacson

Summary

Walter Isaacson does it again. In his recount of the life of Albert Einstein, Isaacson walks the reader through Einstein’s birth, his career in the world of college education, the discovery of the theory of relativity, his work on quantum theory, and then his political influence in the early 1920s. All 500 pages of the book keep you engrossed in the pysche of Albert Einstein and how he pushed the limits of his imagination to become one of the greatest scientists of our time.

Review

This was a bit more challenging of a read for me because I am not one well versed in the world of Einstein’s scientific discoveries. However, the way that Isaacson wrote about Einstein’s discoveries was interesting and simple enough that I was able to follow the scientific progression throughout his life. What intrigued me most about Einstein’s life was the sacrifices that he made for the betterment of his discoveries. As a husband and father of two, Einstein made the decision to move hundreds of miles away from his family for a teaching position so that he could be by himself as he worked towards achieving his greatest scientific discoveries. His ability to shut out the rest of the world to escape into his mind intrigued and inspired me.

Enjoying the content so far? I'd love for you to join my email list...

I only send weekly, inspiring emails every Monday. I teach best practices I'm learning and using to build FreeeUp, Portlight, and this site. 

Why Read It and What You’ll Learn

  • the power of imagination
  • the genius of being alone
  • how Einstein became more than a scientist

Support ConnorGillivan.com and buy your copy of Einstein at Amazon today!

3. Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration written by Ed Catmull

Summary

In Creativity, Inc, Ed Catmull reveals the inner track to how he became the President of Pixar and finally realized one of his lifelong dreams: to create and release the first digitally animated film. The book brings the reader on an emotional roller coaster as Catmull completes his PHD in Computer Science at the University of Utah, gets involved in what would become Pixar, develops a powerful relationship with John Lasseter, crosses paths with Steve Jobs, creates and launches tens of Pixar movies, and deals with the wants of Disney.

Review

My sister gave me this particular book for my birthday last year and I read it in one weekend while traveling to St. Pete beach because I simply couldn’t put it down. From the first page, the chapters are packed with such useful and compelling content that you want to keep reading to find out how much more interesting Ed Catmull’s life can become.

As a lover of everything Pixar, I loved reading about how difficult it was to make the movies that I have watched throughout my life, i.e. Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monster’s Inc., etc. I also loved the book because it revealed a different side of Steve Jobs that I had not read about before. Steve Jobs was a savior to Pixar as it first got its feet off the ground providing them funding, but his dominant and demanding presence was not accepted well by the Pixar board.

In the book, Catmull details the difficulties that he and Lasseter experienced as they tried to work with Steve. Catmull reflects on his relationship with Steve in the final chapter of the book and expresses his great appreciation for what Steve did to make Pixar grow and challenge the norms. It is an extremely touching selection that nearly brought me to tears.

Why Read It and What You’ll Learn

  • the discovery of computer animated films
  • the founding of Pixar
  • the power of teamwork, collaboration, and sound leadership
  • the power of creativity

Support ConnorGillivan.com and buy your copy of Creativity Inc at Amazon today!

4. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes our Lives written by Steven Levy

Summary

The technology company that has slowly infiltrated multiple aspects of our digital lives is explained through the lenses of its founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Steven Levy, through hundreds of interviews with Page, Brin, and other Google execs, paints the story of the two students at Stanford who created one of the first Internet search engines and turned it into one of the most valuable technology companies to date. Levy details the founding of the Google search algorithm, the duos rise to defeat competing search engines, the progression of Google’s headquarters, and the discovery of Gmail, Google Maps, and the many other inventions that Google has supported since their founding.

Review

It’s been almost three years since I first read this book about the founding and growth of Google, but many aspects of their story still stick with me and have inspired me throughout my attempt to create a great eCommerce company. I enjoyed Levy’s commitment to keeping a focus on the mindsets of Brin and Page throughout the book to describe how Google continued to grow from just an idea into a worldly company. He dives deep into the culture that the two founders created in the first 10 years of founding the company and how their Montessori upbringing influenced the ideals that they instilled within their workforce.

I took many lessons from this book to the creation of my first eCommerce company and continue to look up to both Brin and Page for their relentless pursuit of the future. With the recent reorganization of Google into Alphabet because of the handful of projects that they are regularly working on to progress the human population, I cannot help but think of what I first learned of the company through this book. They have stayed true to the values that they built the company upon and continue to seek solutions to some of the most challenging issues that we face.

Why Read It and What You’ll Learn

  • the advent of search on the Internet
  • building a company culture based off a set of core values and beliefs
  • maximizing your workforce through creativity

Support ConnorGillivan.com and get your copy of In The Plex at Amazon today!

5. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon written by Brad Stone

Summary

For most, little was known about the founding and inner workings of Amazon.com because of Jeff Bezos’ focus on revealing as little as possible to the media. Even as Brad Stone went to work on conducting interviews and writing the book about Bezos’ life and founding of Amazon, Bezos worked to make it a trying project.

In the book, Stone breaks the silence and reveals the story of how Bezos went from a Wall Street workaholic to the founder and CEO of the most dominating eCommerce company in the world. Stone vividly describes Bezos’ decision to move out west to pursue his idea of the everything store, the popularity that the site established as an online book retailer, the company’s relentless commitment to low prices and fast shipping, the opposition from retailers and publishers, and the expansion of the Amazon Marketplace to new continents.

Review

I was naturally inclined to buy and read this book as soon as it was released because the first business that I had started and grew was largely dependent upon the online marketplace that Bezos had helped build. Throughout the course of reading the book, I loved learning about the founding and growth of Amazon because of the striking similarities it had to the business that I was helping build.

At the core of selling online, there is the supplier pipeline that takes products from manufacturing to mass distribution to the customer. Many aspects of Amazon’s first attempt to understand and innovate the supplier pipeline was a core of the problems that I was also attempting to solve as my company added more products by working with more suppliers around the United States.

While this is one of the aspects that Bezos is criticized most for, the book details the brutal determination that Bezos had for the long term vision of the company even when they were just getting started. Even after becoming a public company, Bezos continued to commit to long term projects that he believed would add value to the company despite the opposition of investors and internal executives.

Whether it was luck or pure genius, Bezos’ beliefs came to fruition and he now stands tall as the CEO of one of the largest technology companies in the world. If you want to understand the values that brought him to such heights, this is the book to read.

Why Read It and What You’ll Learn

  • the advent of eCommerce
  • how a culture of competition can inspire brilliant work
  • the power of long term strategy and thinking

Support ConnorGillivan.com and get your copy of The Everything Store at Amazon today!

6. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life written by Walter Isaacson

Summary

Talk about a renaissance man. Walter Isaacson paints a beautiful picture of the long and accomplished life of Benjamin Franklin as a postman, an inventor, a scientist, a politician, a traveler, an entrepreneur, a writer, and a diplomat. He eloquently guides us through Franklin’s life using excerpts from Franklin’s own autobiography to allow us access to his inner thoughts and workings. The book starts in Franklin’s birthplace of Boston where he begins his career as a writer before taking us to Philadelphia, London, and Paris where Franklin spent the majority of his life.

Review

I had always been intrigued by the life of Benjamin Franklin, but it was not until I picked up this book that I realized the true impact that he had on the formation of our country and the accomplishments that he was able to record throughout his life. While difficult to get along with at first, I loved that the book included hundreds of excerpts from Franklin’s autobiography because of the personal touch that it added to every story that Isaacson narrated. I felt like I was being told the story directly from Franklin himself.

Similar to Einstein, I was taken by the solidarity that Benjamin Franklin created throughout his life in pursuit of the visions that he had for America and his discoveries. There were many times throughout his life that he moved far, far away from his family for years at a time for his work. Could he have completed the same work at home? Was it necessary for him to be so far away and provide so little details of his true intentions? It is a recurring theme that I see in some of the most accomplished people throughout history.

Regardless of the means that Franklin went through to reach his accomplishments, it is amazing how wide of an impact he was able to have in the years that he was alive. He had a laser focus that allowed him to quickly switch between disciplines while also making a significant impact.

Why Read It and What You’ll Learn

  • the formation of Northeast American civil society
  • the power of script, networking, and strategizing
  • how the United States became independent from British rule

Support ConnorGillivan.com and buy your copy of Benjamin Franklin at Amazon today!

7. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future written by Ashlee Vance

Summary

Last, but certainly not least is Elon Musk, the modern day Iron Man. After months of awaiting approval from Musk, Ashlee Vance was finally granted permission to write a biography on the tech entrepreneur and conduct interviews to learn more about his inner psyche. In the book, Vance takes us through Musk’s birth and maturation in South Africa, his education in America, the founding and sale of ZipCar, his impact on the growth and sale of PayPal, the creation of Solar City, and the creation of both SpaceX and Tesla. Vance keeps a focus on exposing the way that Elon thinks throughout the recount of his life to give the reader a better understanding of how he was able to make it all happen.

Review

Elon Musk is a technology entrepreneur that I have always been taken aback by. His determination to achieve his lifelong visions of settling humans on Mars and building the first fully electric motor vehicle is a quality that I highly respect and admire. While reading the book, I was exposed even more to the qualities of Musk that have made him such a success throughout his life: grit, self learning, and precision.

I learned through Vance’s words that Musk supports a work week of 80 to 100 hours every week in order to keep an edge up on his competition. When Musk decided that he wanted to create SpaceX, he committed time in his already busy schedule to teaching himself rocket science so that he could fully understand the engineering needed to make his dreams possible. And as Tesla built its first car for the masses, Musk applied rocket science design specifications to make the car as perfect as possible before being released to the public.

Ashlee Vance’s story of what Elon Musk has created in his life thus far is an amazing read for anyone with dreams of who they want to become. At the sprite age of 44, Elon Musk will most likely need another biography solely dedicated to what he will accomplish in the next 30 years of his life.

Why Read It and What You’ll Learn

  • the power of expectations
  • how Musk became the modern Iron Man
  • the struggles we must face to become who we envision

Support ConnorGillivan.com and buy your copy of Elon Musk’s Biography at Amazon today!

Create Your Own Future

As I reflect on these seven essential visionary biographies, I cannot help but to point out the obvious similarity between all of these individuals…they had a vision of who they wanted to become and they let nothing stand in their way of achieving it throughout their life.

Their stories all have a beginning where that vision was initially formed and less defined, yet that is all they were concerned about for years upon years. Growing as individuals can be a terrifying process if you are unsure of where you are headed. Take inspiration from these seven visionaries and create your own future.

If you’re interested in understanding my visions, navigate to my section of the blog where I share my writing on the future. Similar to these individuals, I too have a world that I am determined to create. It all just takes time, persistence, and determination.

I leave you with a quote that I continue to reference as I envision the future in hope that it will guide you toward your ultimate being.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
-George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903)