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At Business Insider, we recently rounded up some the books that Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recommends everyone should read, and why.
One leapt out at me, probably because it’s the only one of the nine we tracked down that I’ve actually read: “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams, who died in 2001.
I discovered this book in high school, not long after everyone else I knew had disappeared down the J.R.R. Tolkien hole (I don’t like any of Tolkien’s books, but that puts me in a distinct minority).
Adams, with his slightly madcap, absurdist sense of humor, created the novel out of a radio series he did for the BBC in the the late 1970s, back when science fiction was alternating between blockbuster pomposity (“Star Wars”) and the Very Scary (“Alien”).
Adams established Third Way, using comedy as a means to get at some of the same themes that sci-fi had mined for decades: Why are we here? Where are we going? What’s the best drink in the Universe? (It’s the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.) “The Hitchhiker’s Guide” was also made into a movie, in 2005.
Musk says that he learned about the important of properly phrasing questions from the book, because one of the plot points involved a supercomputer that spits out a question-less answer (the question part is actually and even larger plot point).
But what I learned from the book was that science should be take seriously – but not too seriously. I also think Musk appreciates this: he understands that science and technology should have an appetite for the ridiculous. Otherwise, we would always consider science too earnestly to take the crazy risks that we need to make breakthroughs.
This was one of Adams’ most enduring insights: We should laugh while we learn.