Books inspire us, challenge us and expose us to ideas that transform our understanding of the world and ourselves. They open a door into the minds of others and, in doing so, open our own minds. To understand the transformational power that books can have, we asked 8 successful people — from actors to astrophysicists — about the books that changed their lives.

1. Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group

From Branson’s Thrive Questionnaire

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie — ever since reading it as a child, Peter Pan has been my favourite character, and I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from the book. I’ve never really wanted to grow up and I’ve always wanted to fly!”

2. Neil deGrasse Tyson, American Astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium

From Tyson’s Thrive Questionnaire

“Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica (1687). It’s where I realized how deeply a member of my own species — another human being — can be plugged into the operations of nature, leading to his discovery that the world is a knowable place, via universal laws.”

3. Megha Mittal, Chairman of Escada

From Mittal’s Thrive Questionnaire

Nothing Special, Living Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck. It is a series of dialogues between a zen master and his student. It explains the philosophy of ‘living in the moment,’ which we all know, but explains it really well. It changed my perspective on life.”

4. Alan Alda, Emmy Award-Winning Actor, Author and Professor

From Alda’s Thrive Questionnaire

“I was eight and read a book called Top Horse at Crescent Ranch. I knew from that moment that I wanted to be a writer. So I started working on a story that I decided would be completely different. I called it Not the Top Horse at Crescent Ranch. In a way it was a different story, because it was about the underdog, not the big cheese.”

5. Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co

From Bergh’s Thrive Questionnaire

The Power of Full Engagement by Dr. Jim Loehr; he set out a program that is focused on managing physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy. It’s a holistic way of thinking about wellness that I try to model and encourage all our employees to follow. And, Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, which convinced me to become a vegan, cold turkey, seven years ago.”

6. Wanda Holland Greene, Head of The Hamlin School

From Greene’s Thrive Questionnaire

The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I read it in 1984 when I was in 12th grade at The Chapin School. The main character Celie suffers and yet endures.”

7. Ezra Klein, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of

From Klein’s Thrive Questionnaire

Cal Newport’s Deep Work led me to make concrete changes to my daily schedule. He’s very persuasive that we’re slowly training ourselves into distractibility, and that you don’t want the brain that results from a mix of thoughtless scheduling and constant digital interruptions. So since I read it, I’ve been trying to avoid scheduling meetings before noon, and I’m working to spend at least 45 minutes a day reading one book without interruptions.”

8. Ashley Wilking, Fitness Influencer

From Wilking’s Thrive Questionnaire

“When I first moved to New York, I was overwhelmed to say the least. I wanted to stick it out and figure it out. I randomly bought this book called Take the Stairs. This wasn’t a life changing method or suspenseful thriller, but it made me think. One of the main points: If you choose the easier option, you’ll never grow. You’ll always cruise. Take that challenge. Even it it’s just the stairs!”

Originally published at

Read more by Gigi Falk here.