All Walter Isaacson Books, Sorted Chronologically (and by Popularity)

Walter Isaacson Books Cover

Walter Isaacson might be the best and most celebrated biographer alive today. His books detailing the lives of Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs, and others feel more like novels than boring lists of facts and accomplishments. Perhaps it is no wonder then that his biography of Leonardo da Vinci is being made into a Hollywood movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio! For now though, we’ll have to make do with his excellent writing, and if you’re looking for a full list of Walter Isaacson books, you’ve come to the right place!

Isaacson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1952. He enjoyed an excellent education and graduated both from Harvard and Pembroke College in Oxford. Isaacson started his writing career at The Sunday Times in London, eventually becoming Time magazine’s editor in 1996. After a brief period as CNN’s chairman and CEO in the early 2000s, he became president of the non-profit organization Aspen Institute, a position he held for 15 years. Currently, Isaacson is a professor of history at Tulane University in his hometown, New Orleans — next to writing books, of course.

Walter Isaacson has been publishing books for almost 40 years, but his big breakthrough came with his biography of Steve Jobs, released in 2011, shortly after the legendary Apple founder’s sad and early death. Based on more than 40 direct interviews with the billionaire genius behind the Apple II, the Mac, and the iPhone, Isaacson’s book broke all sales records for biographies, selling well over three million copies in the first four years alone.

So far, we’ve summarized over 1,000 books here at Four Minute Books, most of Isaacson’s works among them. Today, we’d like to give you a comprehensive overview of his writings. For each title, we’ve listed a one-sentence summary, our favorite quote, three key takeaways, and a few reasons why you might want to read a particular book yourself.

You can easily navigate this list by clicking on whichever section interests you the most in the table of contents below. If you want to dive deeper into any book, click the “Read on Four Minute Books” or “Learn More” button or use one of our Amazon affiliate links to buy a copy, thus supporting us at no extra cost to you.

Okay, ready for some amazing biographies of great, fascinating people? Let’s get into Walter Isaacson’s books!


All Walter Isaacson Books (in Chronological Order)

1. The Wise Men (1986)

Walter Isaacson Books #1: The Wise Men (1986)

Favorite Quote

“In their time, they operated largely behind the scenes, little known by the public. But they achieved great things: the shaping of a world order; the creation of international institutions; the forging of a lasting peace in a perilous time.” — Walter Isaacson

The Book in One Sentence

The Wise Men is part biography, part gripping historic tale, telling the stories of six key, underrated, often behind-the-scenes statesmen who decisively contributed to America’s prosperity post-WWII both as individuals and through their interconnected actions.

Why should you read it?

If you like stories about unsung heroes and underrated personalities that, for some reason or other, ended up mostly behind the scenes where others took the credit, this book is for you. It’s a fascinating door into the world of the elites, but also into what they struggle with, and how they try to ethically and nobly navigate an environment that often wants to seduce them into corruption. Plus, it’s a great behind-the-scenes look of America during the Cold War, and how some of the policies that still heavily influence its strategical direction today came into being back then.

Key Takeaways

  1. Like people, nation’s make decisions on a case-by-case basis — it’s just that the process is even more chaotic than in humans.
  2. Leaders should hold their governments accountable, push them to act honorably, and demand clear perspectives after the inevitable clashes of ideas.
  3. It’s important to think hard about policy, draw fine distinctions, and not over-simplify foreign guidelines.

If you want to learn more, you can click below or get a copy for yourself.

_____


2. Kissinger (1992)

Walter Isaacson Books #2: Kissinger (1992)

Favorite Quote

“If I had to choose between justice and disorder on the one hand, and injustice and order on the other, I would always choose the latter.” — Henry Kissinger

The Book in One Sentence

Kissinger is a well-written account of Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger’s public life and career, retelling his achievements from a balanced perspective while also offering a glimpse into his personal life.

Why should you read it?

If you want to be a leader, especially in politics, this book is for you. Kissinger is an inspiring individual, but he’s also a realist, knowing it takes compromise, communication, and balance to get things done on a global stage. Learning about his story and how he navigated highly sensitive situations will give you a better sense of how to balance your own goals with those of other people, and why the most important words are sometimes those you don’t say. A great read for anyone interested in history, politics, or, well, Henry Kissinger.

Key Takeaways

  1. Most politicians are idealists, but Kissinger is a realist, and that helped him have a greater impact.
  2. Being in a position of power will always force you to make uncomfortable decisions.
  3. Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a ceasefire in the Vietnam War, but the decision was controversial.

If you want to learn more, you can click below or get a copy for yourself.

_____


3. Benjamin Franklin (2003)

Walter Isaacson Books #3: Benjamin Franklin (2003)

Favorite Quote

“Knowledge is obtained rather by the use of the ear than of the tongue.” — Benjamin Franklin

The Book in One Sentence

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life takes a thorough look at the life of one of the most influential humans that ever lived and explains how he could achieve such greatness in so many different fields and areas.

Why should you read it?

By both collecting and commenting on Franklin’s achievements in various fields, Isaacson sheds some light on how one individual can not just be creative but succeed with their creations in more than one arena. If you’re an artist, entrepreneur, or simply interested in America’s founding story, this book is for you.

Key Takeaways

  1. Benjamin Franklin was a self-improvement nerd.
  2. If you really want to learn something, you’ll find a way.
  3. Don’t be afraid to be 20 years ahead of your time.

If you want to learn more, you can read our free four-minute summary or get a copy for yourself.

_____


4. Einstein (2007)

Walter Isaacson Books #4: Einstein (2007)

Favorite Quote

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.” — Albert Einstein

The Book in One Sentence

Einstein: His Life and Universe takes a close look at the life of Albert Einstein, covering how his childhood shaped him, what his biggest discoveries and personal struggles were, and how his focus changed in later years but how, through it all, his genius never faded, including up to his very last days.

Why should you read it?

Half biography, half lessons for living a good life, this book will inspire you to chart your own path in life. Some of Einstein’s theories were proven right 100 years later, once we finally had the technology to collect the evidence he already knew would be there. But when he formulated them, they weren’t all just immediately accepted. If you want to learn how to persist against the odds, read this book.

Key Takeaways

  1. Einstein always preserved his sense of childhood curiosity, which is a key part of his success.
  2. He did not get his Nobel prize for his theory of relativity.
  3. Your journey through life never stops, until you die.

If you want to learn more, you can read our free four-minute summary or get a copy for yourself.

_____


5. American Sketches (2009)

Walter Isaacson Books #5: American Sketches (2009)

Favorite Quote

“There should be an honored place in history for statesmen whose ideas turned out to be right.” — Walter Isaacson

The Book in One Sentence

American Sketches is a collection of essays profiling noteworthy Americans, written by biographer Walter Isaacson over his own illustrious career as a journalist and writer, tied together via personal reflections on his professional journey.

Why should you read it?

If you are looking for some simple, snapshot biographies of significant figures in history, this book is for you. You’ll find inspiration from various people’s stories as well as insight into Isaacson’s own life and interesting career. Especially if you want to be a writer or journalist, don’t skip this one.

Key Takeaways

  1. History is shaped by people, not mysterious anonymous forces.
  2. The people who change history are usually led by a core value or quality that drives them to make their impact in a specific way.
  3. Creativity is more important than intellect.

If you want to learn more, you can click below or get a copy for yourself.

_____


6. Steve Jobs (2011)

Walter Isaacson Books #6: Steve Jobs (2011)

Favorite Quote

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones, who do.” — Steve Jobs

The Book in One Sentence

Steve Jobs is the most detailed and accurate account of the life of the man who created Apple, the most valuable technology company in the world.

Why should you read it?

If you appreciate and admire Steve Jobs and his accomplishments, this is a book worth reading. It’s also reminder to “think different,” to go all-in on creativity and try to make something people will love — even if they might not know that they need it yet. This is a must-read for anyone aspiring to do any kind of entrepreneurial project.

Key Takeaways

  1. Steve Jobs’s team invented a name for his most important skill, the reality distortion field.
  2. The Apple name was chosen for a very specific reason.
  3. Apple didn’t make Steve Jobs a billionaire, Pixar did.

If you want to learn more, you can read our free four-minute summary or get a copy for yourself.

_____


7. The Innovators (2014)

Walter Isaacson Books #7: The Innovators (2014)

Favorite Quote

“Progress comes not only in great leaps but also from hundreds of small steps.” — Walter Isaacson

The Book in One Sentence

The Innovators walks you through the history of the digital revolution, showing how it was a combined effort of many creative minds over decades that enabled us to go from huge, clunky machines to the fast, globally connected devices in our pockets today.

Why should you read it?

The more familiar you are with what it was like to listen to music before smartphones and Spotify, the more you’ll appreciate the ubiquity of music we have today. The same is true for all kinds of technology, and in this book, you’ll learn how we made it into the computer, software, and then online age in the first place. Starting all the way from the beginning, Isaacson brilliantly connects the stories of brilliant minds, showing you what it takes to truly push humanity forward.

Key Takeaways

  1. The first programmer was a woman, and her program was a result of math and poetry.
  2. Hippies and hackers made the computer personal.
  3. The internet was a combined effort of universities, the military, and private companies.

If you want to learn more, you can read our free four-minute summary or get a copy for yourself.

_____


8. Leonardo da Vinci (2017)

Walter Isaacson Books #8: Leonardo da Vinci (2017)

Favorite Quote

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” — Leonardo da Vinci

The Book in One Sentence

Leonardo Da Vinci is Walter Isaacson’s account of the life of one of the most brilliant artists, thinkers, and innovators who ever lived.

Why should you read it?

Da Vinci might be the person with the single-biggest impact on humanity, especially considering how much of it happened across different fields, from biology to art to architecture. This is a human worth learning about, and especially if you’re an artist or are pursuing creative endeavors, you’ll benefit a lot from Isaacson’s wonderfully complete picture of a man who died over 500 years ago.

Key Takeaways

  1. Da Vinci elevated the status of artists as thinkers and innovators.
  2. Try to transfer your interests to your projects, even if they seem completely unrelated.
  3. Prepare your biggest ideas in a way that allows them to be published once you’re gone.

If you want to learn more, you can read our free four-minute summary or get a copy for yourself.

_____


9. The Code Breaker (2021)

Walter Isaacson Books #9: The Code Breaker (2021)

Favorite Quote

“The power to control our species’ genetic future is awesome and terrifying. Deciding how to handle it may be the biggest challenge we have ever faced.” — Jennifer Doudna

The Book in One Sentence

The Code Breaker details the life of Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna, who embarked on — and successfully completed — a journey to invent a tool that allows us to edit the human genetic code and thus will change our lives, health, and future generations forever.

Why should you read it?

If you’re both fascinated and a little scared by what it might mean for us to be able to edit our own genetic code, read this book. Knowledge is the best antidote to fear, and in this read, you’ll learn about the origins of this humanity-shaping discovery. Plus, if you’re into science, chemistry, biology, and human performance, you’ll also get a lot out of this read.

Key Takeaways

  1. There are few greater joys in life than figuring out how something works — especially ourselves.
  2. Creating a new product or even industry does not make you an expert on how it should best be used.
  3. Creative people often feel like they don’t belong as children — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

If you want to learn more, you can click below or get a copy for yourself.

_____


Walter Isaacson Books by Popularity

If you’re wondering which of Isaacson’s books are the most popular, here, we’ve listed them all for you based on their number of Amazon ratings.

  1. Steve Jobs (⭐️ 12,900+ Ratings ⭐️)
  2. The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race (⭐️ 11,300+ Ratings ⭐️)
  3. Leonardo da Vinci (⭐️ 6,600+ Ratings ⭐️)
  4. Einstein: His Life and Universe (⭐️ 3,700+ Ratings ⭐️)
  5. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (⭐️ 2,600+ Ratings ⭐️)
  6. The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution (⭐️ 2,500+ Ratings ⭐️)
  7. The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made (⭐️ 500+ Ratings ⭐️)
  8. Kissinger: A Biography (⭐️ 200+ Ratings ⭐️)
  9. American Sketches: Great Leaders, Creative Thinkers, and Heroes of a Hurricane (⭐️ 100+ Ratings ⭐️)

With his Steve Jobs biography selling over three million copies alone, and the others combined selling millions more, Walter Isaacson is one of the most successful authors today, with a net worth of supposedly over $20 million. His books are incredibly well researched, inspiring, and enlightening.


In What Order Should You Read Walter Isaacson’s Books?

Which of Isaacson’s books should you read first? What’s the best order to read them all in? Well, honestly, given they are mostly biographies of individual people, the answer is clear: The best of Isaacson’s books to read first is the one about the person who fascinates you the most. That said, for anyone who’s at a loss which one to pick, we recommend going in chronological order of the time in which Isaacson’s subjects lived and created.

  1. Leonardo da Vinci: Starting in 1452 with who may have been the first true polymath in history, this is where Isaacson’s journey to chronicle the world’s most impactful people begins.
  2. Benjamin Franklin: Jumping around 200 years to the American Revolution, Franklin trod in Da Vinci’s footsteps — maybe not in the sense that he also picked up a brush, but in the sense that he masterminded many innovative breakthroughs across a variety of fields. 
  3. Einstein: Born in 1879, the crazy-haired theoretical physicist made most of his contributions in the first half of the 20th century, including his theory of both general and special relativity.
  4. The Wise Men: Overlapping between both Einstein and Kissinger, the “Wise Men” were six highly influential leaders in American politics between the 1930s and 1960s. 
  5. Kissinger: Born in 1923 with his peak impact happening in the 1970s during the Vietnam War, Kissinger was a man with a fascinating combination of both strengths and weaknesses, both of which Isaacson analyzed in detail throughout this book.
  6. Steve Jobs: A kid of the 50s, Jobs first shone brightly in the 80s with the invention of the Apple II, and then again in the early 2000s with what might be his biggest gift to the world: the iPhone.
  7. The Code Breaker: Doudna won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 for her 2012 CRISPR gene-editing discovery. The book ends with her work in fighting coronavirus and is thus pretty up to date!
  8. The Innovators: Since this is a compendium of everyone involved in bringing about the modern computer, it begins in the 1800s and ends around the time of the early internet. It’s a great way to round out the cast of individual, shining characters from Isaacson’s other books while learning about what might be the most important invention of the 20th (and 21st) century.
  9. American Sketches: Depending on your preference, you might want to read this essay collection either first or last. First if you want to get an overview of Isaacson’s writing style and subjects first, last if you want to round out everything you’ve learned with some additional takes on more significant people from history.

Walter Isaacson books are just a great addition to your reading list all around. Whichever one you’ll choose first, it won’t fail to both entertain and educate.

Conclusion

Walter Isaacson is the most celebrated biographer alive today, and if you ask us, for good reason. His books are absolute page-turners, combining the tension and excitement of a great novel with pure facts about some of the most interesting humans’ lives. It’s always a good time to pick up an Isaacson book when it comes to learning something new — and you’ll get a big heaping of inspiration on top for free. We hope this list will help you pick a title and get started!


Other Book Lists by Author

Looking for more books by the world’s most celebrated authors? Here are all of the book lists by the author we’ve curated for you:


Other Book Lists by Topic

Looking for more of the best books on various topics? Here are all the book lists we’ve made for you so far:


Rate this book!
This book has an average rating of 5 based on 1 votes.

Last Updated on November 21, 2022