Discover the reading habits of successful people, including today’s billionaires and great leaders, what books they recommend, and how you can follow their lead.

coffee and napkin that says build good habits

Reading habits” have quickly become a popular topic with readers of The Literary Lifestyle. Since so many people are looking to improve their reading habits and become better readers, it makes sense that, as part of this series, we take a closer look at the reading habits of successful people and apply them to our own lives to become more successful like them.

The CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett, famously reads five hundred pages every day, and Oprah Winfrey has famously run a book club since 1996 — and this is more than coincidental. So, first, I will discuss the correlation between these reading habits and their success.

Next, I will provide more specific details about the reading habits of successful people like them and other of the most prominent modern leaders, followed by some of their best book recommendations that you can read too. Lastly, I share tips on reading books and resources for you to develop your own habits to become more like those reading habits of great leaders and billionaires.

The goal? For you to be just as successful by reading more!

Is there a correlation between reading and success?

Yes, there is a correlation between reading and success. It is not a coincidence that some of the most successful people — those who have achieved wealth through their careers — are readers.

Tom Corley, the author of Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals, surveyed hundreds of people of various wealth over five years, then documented over three hundred habits that the data showed to separate richer (and implicitly, more successful, people) from those who are statistically poor in their wealth.

Among those top three habits was reading:

“Successful people engage in at least 30 minutes a day of self-improvement reading […] They read or listen to books, articles, newsletters, etc. They study stuff that helps them do a better job.”

Tom Corley

Some of the most interesting statistics that Corley uncovered in his five-year study include the following:

  • 86% of the rich loved reading vs. 26% of the poor.
  • 63% of the rich listened to audio books during their commute to work vs. 5% of the poor.
  • 85% of the rich read two or more self-improvement books every month vs. 15% of the poor.
  • 88% of the rich read 30 minutes or more each day vs. 2% of the poor.
Tom Corley

Corley has also cited other studies that found that people who read for self-education earned substantially more.

And, to further link this correlation between success and reading, Corley has noted that 98% of the poor people he studied engaged in no educational reading.

Reading is known to have life-changing benefits, including increased knowledge, empathy, and critical thinking skills, and Corley’s study has, indeed, proven that this tends to translate to professional success and wealth.

Reading Habits of Successful People

Now that you know there is a positive link between reading and success, let’s take a look at some of the reading habits of the most successful people in today’s world.

As mentioned, Warren Buffett has famously attributed his success to reading five hundred pages per day, as, “That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest.”

And, when Oprah Winfrey started her book club in 1996, she remarked, “I love books. When I was growing up, books were my friends. When I didn’t have friends, I had books. […] I think that books open windows to the world for all of us.” In 2023, she announced her 100th book club pick to readers worldwide.

Elon Musk has read up to ten hours a day at times and credits books for his ideas to build rockets. Likewise, Mark Cuban reads for four to five hours a day and has said, “I tell my kids… ‘Somebody who doesn’t read lives one life, somebody who reads an unlimited number of lives.'” He credits reading with expanding your mind.

Bill Gates, who shares books on his blog, reads fifty books per year and offers only this advice to his younger self: “Read a lot and discover a skill you enjoy.”

And former United States President Barack Obama became known for publishing his yearly reading lists from 2009 to the present.

In 2015, Mark Zuckerberg hosted “A Year of Books” challenge on Facebook. Likewise, Richard Branson has hosted a book club with Literati and published his own list of books to read in a lifetime.

Lastly, actress Reese Witherspoon literally became wealthy and successful by reading. The production company she built to acquire the film rights for books she loved sold in 2021 for $900 million.

In short, what is most common to these reading habits of successful people is reading daily and reading a lot.

Books Successful People Read

It also helps to know what the most successful people read, so you can read the same books as them to achieve success too.

Author Tom Corley found that rich people most often read current events, educational material, biographies of other successful people, history, and self-help. I have researched the favorite books and book recommendations of some of the most successful people and share some of my top picks from their lists below.

Mark Zuckerberg recommends the popular book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, and Warren Buffett recommends The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham.

Richard Branson’s list of books to read in a lifetime is so diverse and impactful that it’s hard to pick just a few to highlight, but here are a few I also read and loved:  Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson; Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant;  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou; 1984 by George Orwell; Oh, The Place You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss; and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

Among Jeff Bezos’s favorite books are the Nobel Prize Winner in literature, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, and the autobiography Sam Walton: Made in America, by Sam Walton.

From Barack Obama’s many reading lists of diverse literary fiction and historical non-fiction reads, I personally recommend: Becoming by Michelle Obama; Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Dr. Atul Gawande; Caste by Isabel Wilkerson; Educated by Tara Westover; A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles; Long Bright River by Liz Moore; and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.

One of Mark Cuban’s all-time favorite books is the classic The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, which encouraged him to “take risks to reach [his] goals, and responsibility for [his] successes and failures.”

Bill Gates’s all-time favorite books include the memoir Surrender by rock star Bono and the Abraham Lincoln biography Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Among Elon Musk’s favorite books are The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and one of my husband’s favorite biographies, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson. 

Impactful books on Oprah’s book club list that are popular with me and readers of The Literary Lifestyle include: Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano; Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver; East of Eden by John Steinbeck; and Night by Elie Wiesel.

Similarly, impactful books on Reese Witherspoon’s book club list that are popular with me and readers of The Literary Lifestyle include: From Scratch by Tembi Locke; This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel; and Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed.

There’s a lot to choose from here, including children’s books, fiction classics, educational nonfiction, and so much more, so if you’re struggling to select from this vast list, I think it can help to first select just one or two successful people above that you especially admire, and then check out a few of their recommendations.

Additionally, I note that I can personally vouch for all the books listed above that were recommended by Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Reese Witherspoon, since I also read and loved them, and since I know they are very popular with other readers too.

Lastly, you can even start with Tom Corley’s Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals or James Clear’s Atomic Habits to learn more about reading and habits first.

How to Get the Reading Habits of Successful People

Finally, you may be wondering how to read often like these successful people. I hear from readers all the time who are looking to read more but struggling because they are busy and/or already reading for school.

I think it first helps to know that the very busy successful people mentioned above still find time to read as much as possible because they know how important it is to their success.

Next, you can avoid bad reading habits, like setting the wrong goals and reading in the wrong format.

list of bad reading habits

Instead, focus on creating good reading habits, like making a book list and tracking your reading.

list of good reading habits

Finally, here are a few more resources to help you acquire the reading habits of successful people:

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  1. I am a lifelong learner. I loved reading as a child – The Secret Garden and Black Beauty were among my favorites. The Summer Reading List from school was the highlight of my year! I always have a book with me, an audio book for the car – even for around town – and two kindles by my bed for middle of the night reading! I also keep track of my reading on Goodreads.

  2. Thanks very much for sharing this information. I love reading and would love to improve on my goals.

  3. I have long abandoned reading due to many reasons, but the good thing is that it keeps knocking and like a debt not paid, its been a part of me taken away.
    I must confess that this piece is not only challenging but it has also restored my old book loving self.

    Many thanks.