Some years ago, I noticed a reading practice shared by a number of my favorite people.
I call it “finding your bible”: finding a book that deserves, from your perspective, the kind of deep study that’s historically been reserved for religious texts.
4 Famous People and Their Bibles
Here are four illustrations of what I’m talking about: Steve Jobs, Bob Dylan, William Shakespeare, and Christopher Hitchens.
1. Steve Jobs
// Photo by Ben Stanfield
Meticulous to the end, Steve Jobs pre-arranged every detail of his own funeral. Per his instructions, copies of an esoteric book called Autobiography of a Yogi were handed out to everyone who attended.
Certainly, this was purposeful. Jobs studied yoga intensely throughout his life, and he tried to live according to the ideas in that book. At the end of his life, he emphasized the book’s deep personal significance by placing it in this serious spotlight.
2. Bob Dylan
// Photo by Xavier Badosa
In 1957, Jack Kerouac published his legendary novel On the Road. Bob Dylan was only 16, but he’d write many of his most beloved lyrics within the next five years. Almost 50 years later, Dylan still vividly remembered how Kerouac’s book had affected him in those early years:
“On the Road had been like a bible for me. I loved the breathless dynamic bop poetry phrases that flowed from Jack’s pen… I fell into that atmosphere of everything Kerouac was saying about the world.”
True to these words, if you read On the Road and then listen to Dylan’s early songs, you’ll hear echoes of Kerouac’s style in the lyrics.
3. William Shakespeare
Although he lived in a strictly religious time, William Shakespeare went against the grain by adopting his own personal sacred text. It was Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which pervades the bard’s entire body of work.
This is important. Although Shakespeare read many other books, his relationship with the Metamorphoses far surpassed ‘taking a page out of Ovid’s book.’ In fact, if you were to take Ovid away from Shakespeare, you simply wouldn’t have Shakespeare. As one example, Romeo and Juliet wouldn’t have a plot—Shakespeare lifted the whole story straight from the Metamorphoses.
4. Christopher Hitchens
// Photo by Jose Ramirez
Even Christopher Hitchens, an outspoken atheist, studied his own self-selected scripture: the collected work of Mary Ann Evans. A prolific author from the 1800s, Evans is still known by her pseudonym, George Eliot.
This idea—that literature can replace religion as an ethical resource—is a great observation about the value of bible-finding. I took it to heart.
My Experiments With Bible-Finding
As soon as I noticed this pattern of behavior among my heroes, I wanted to try it myself. So, I stopped doing what I’d been doing since childhood—breathlessly devouring book after book—and started bible-seeking.
When I finished a book that deeply affected me, I resisted the urge to move on to another book. Instead, I’d let that “finished” book keep me company for a while.
I’d carry around a dead-tree copy, if it made sense. If not, I’d keep a digital copy open on my phone. During idle moments throughout the day, I’d page through my “bible.”
Being a mega-nerd, I’d also research the author and learn the book’s backstory. I’d take notes and occasionally send quotes to friends. I’d even memorize short passages, mostly by accident.
Long story short, I made a conscious effort to internalize the book, so its most relevant ideas would come to mind effortlessly and naturally in my everyday life.
Bible-finding isn’t just a different approach to reading. It makes reading into an altogether different activity.
I can now demarcate various phases of my life—sometimes months, sometimes years—in terms of what my bible was during that time. This seems to provide a more lucid view of my past. I also think the process of engaging with books on this deeper level has made it easier for me to focus and pay attention to things that matter to me.
For anyone who’s curious about my selections, I’ve found four bibles in about four years. Those are Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Bertrand Russell’s Basic Writings, and Zero to One by Peter Thiel. I’ve read other books within these last few years, but these are the ones I’ve treated with reverence.
Nobody—not me, not Steve Jobs, not Dylan or Shakespeare or Hitchens—can find your bible.
Have you found yours?