- We’ve rounded up Bill Gates’ many book recommendations in 2018.
- Over the past year, Gates gave his stamp of approval to more than 20 titles, including two books on meditation.
- In addition to science and data-driven stories, the list features popular books like Trevor Noah’s memoir, “Born a Crime,” and John Green’s “Turtles All the Way Down.”
Bill Gates isn’t shy about recommending books. As an avid reader, he’s given his stamp of approval to hundreds of titles, including some unlikely beach reads.
This year alone, he’s highlighted more than 20 books that captured his attention or expanded his worldview.
In typical Gates fashion, the list features nonfiction titles about artificial intelligence and global inequality. But it also features some surprises, like two books on meditation and Trevor Noah’s memoir, “Born a Crime.”
Whether you’re searching for a gift or simply want to add to your collection, here are the books Gates thinks you should read.
“Bad Blood” by John Carreyrou
Business Insider readers will no doubt be familiar with “Bad Blood.” It’s the story of Theranos, a blood-testing startup that deceived its investors, patients, and business partners into thinking its technology actually worked.
When Elizabeth Holmes founded the company at just 19 years old, it attracted huge investments and catapulted her to worldwide fame. Then The Wall Street Journal broke the story that the company was faking test results, leading to the closure of its labs and testing centres. Holmes and her former business partner, Sunny Balwani, are now facing jail time on fraud charges.
The book’s author, John Carreyrou, spoke with Business Insider earlier this year about how Theranos was able to pull off the scam.
“I think Elizabeth lost sight of the fact that her company wasn’t a computer-software company,” he said.
Gates called the story “a cautionary tale about the virtues of celebrity” and a lesson for Silicon Valley.
“Army of None” by Paul Scharre
Paul Scharre’s book, “Army of None, explores a timely and important question: Why should we put computers in charge?
In an age when autonomous weapons can be programmed to wipe out human targets, “Army of None” makes the case for combining artificial intelligence with our own judgment, so that no algorithm can make the final call on a human life.
Gates said the book filled a void in his canon.
“My first attempt to educate myself on autonomous weapons was a bust,” he wrote. “I read a book that was dry and felt really outdated. Then a few months ago I picked up ‘Army of None’ … It’s the book I had been waiting for.”
“Educated” by Tara Westover
Fans of the Netflix documentary “Wild Wild Country” will enjoy Tara Westover’s memoir, “Educated,” the story of a woman raised in a Mormon survivalist home. As a child, Westover grew up under the influence of her conspiracy-theorist father, who believed that doomsday was upon them.
Despite Westover never stepping foot in a classroom until age 17, she was able to study enough to gain admission to Brigham Young University. From there, she earned a Gates Scholarship (a fact Gates himself discovered upon reading her book), which brought her to the University of Cambridge.
Her tale is one of trauma, separation, and, ultimately, self-discovery. It also touches on the polarization in America between red and blue states, rural and urban areas, and college-educated citizens and those without higher degrees.
When Gates spoke with Westover about this subject, she had this to share: “I worry that education is becoming a stick that some people use to beat other people into submission or becoming something that people feel arrogant about,” she said. “I think of [it] as this great mechanism of connecting and equalizing.”
“21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari
Gates said the title of historian Yuval Noah Harari’s latest book is a misnomer.
“Although you will find a few concrete lessons scattered throughout, Harari mostly resists handy prescriptions,” Gates wrote.
Instead, it encourages people to practice mindfulness and meditation when faced with some of the world’s most pressing problems, like terrorism and inequality.
Though Gates takes issue with a few arguments – including the idea that social media has prompted our political polarization – he embraces the idea of tempering our worries amid life’s greatest challenges.
He also came away with his own life lesson: “I have to be careful not to fool myself into thinking things are better – or worse – than they actually are.”
“The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness” by Andy Puddicombe
Continuing with the theme of mindfulness, “Get Some Headspace” provides research-based evidence of why meditation is such a powerful tool for eliminating distraction.
The book’s author, Andy Puddicombe, is an ordained Buddhist monk who went on to cofound Headspace, a popular meditation app featuring guided practices, animations, articles, and videos.
Gates refers to Puddicombe as “the person who turned me from sceptic to believer.” He even asked Puddicombe to spend a day and a half walking his family through meditation exercises.
“I’m not sure how much meditation would have helped me concentrate in my early Microsoft days,” Gates wrote. “But now that I’m married, have three children, and have a broader set of professional and personal interests, it’s a great tool for improving my focus.”
“Leonardo da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson
Gates has called Leonardo da Vinci “one of the most fascinating people ever.” He even owns a notebook belonging to the famous renaissance polymath, which he’s made available through an interactive kiosk.
Though Walter Isaacson’s biography of da Vinci isn’t the first to hit the stands, it’s Gates’ favourite.
“More than any other Leonardo book I’ve read, this one helps you see him as a complete human being and understand just how special he was,” Gates wrote. “He came close to understanding almost all of what was known on the planet at the time.”
“Everything Happens for a Reason” by Kate Bowler
Kate Bowler was diagnosed with an incurable form of colon cancer at the age of 35. In her book “Everything Happens for a Reason,” Bowler takes on her diagnosis with a surprising amount of humour.
For Gates, her struggle called to mind issues within his own family.
“All four of my grandparents were deeply devout members of a Christian sect who believed that if you got sick, it must be because you did something to deserve it,” he wrote. “When one of my grandfathers became seriously ill, he struggled to figure out what he might have done wrong.”
Gates admires Bowler’s choice to focus less on why things happen, and more on how we respond during difficult times.
“Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders
George Saunders’ most recent novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo,” made Gates “rethink” what he knew about President Abraham Lincoln.
“I got new insight into the way Lincoln must have been crushed by the weight of both grief and responsibility,” Gates wrote on his blog in May. “This is one of those fascinating, ambiguous books you’ll want to discuss with a friend when you’re done.”
The novel is structured as a conversation among hundreds of ghosts, including Lincoln’s deceased son. It also features snippets of historical texts that reveal conflicting accounts of America’s 16th president.
Gates said he was given the recommendation by a tennis buddy. When he was finished, he said, he “couldn’t wait to get back on the court and talk to him.”
“Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian
According to Gates, historian David Christian’s “Origin Story” will leave you with a “greater appreciation of humanity’s place in the universe.”
Christian teaches an online course based on the book, called Big History, which tells the story of the universe from the Big Bang through the modern era.
Gates considers the book to be a “great refresher” of the course material, though it introduces some new subjects as well.
While Gates took umbrage with some of Christian’s predictions about the future of humanity and the universe, he said the author “nails the importance of this moment in history.”
“Factfulness” by Hans Rosling
Those who enjoyed Steven Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now” might also want to check out “Factfulness” by global health expert Hans Rosling.
A doctor and statistician by training, Rosling argues that people are collectively taking an overly emotional view of the world.
Using statistics, he seeks to show how humanity is constantly improving based on birth rates, life expectancy, and the gender wage gap. His book also questions our tendency to divide the world between rich and poor countries, or developed and developing areas, giving us new ways to view income and education.
Rosling passed away last year. Gates called the book “a fitting final word from a brilliant man, and one of the best books I’ve ever read.”
“Alice and Bob Meet the Wall of Fire” by Thomas Lin, Quanta Magazine
In addition to his blog posts, Gates loves to recommend books on Twitter. In November, he suggested two titles from Quanta magazine and its editor in chief, Thomas Lin.
The first title, “Alice and Bob Meet the Wall of Fire,” features the magazine’s best science writing over the last five years. The book explores fascinating subjects like black holes, artificial intelligence, and the evolutionary benefits of loneliness.
David Gross, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, called it a “collection of beautifully written articles” featuring “some of the most exciting ideas being contemplated.”
“The Prime Number Conspiracy” by Thomas Lin, Quanta Magazine
As a complement to “Alice and Bob Meet the Wall of Fire,” Gates also recommends “The Prime Number Conspiracy,” another Quanta and Thomas Lin production.
The title focuses on surprising solutions and discoveries in mathematics, including one that took place at a bus stop, and another that occurred over the bathroom sink.
Gates recommended the book for “science and data nerds” like him, but it’s accessible to other readers as well. Readers will learn how to measure infinity, explore maths as a universal language, and ponder the question: “Is mathematics good for you?”
“The Moment of Lift” by Melinda Gates
Melinda Gates’ “The Moment of Lift” is a call to action for women’s empowerment.
The book traces Melinda Gates’ work from developing multimedia products at Microsoft to cochairing the Gates Foundation and founding Pivotal Ventures, which invests in projects that promote social progress for women and families in the US.
“Few people tell stories as well as Melinda,” Bill Gates tweeted in October. “Whenever she gets back from a trip, I always love hearing her talk about the places she went and the people she met. That’s one of the reasons why I’m excited about her new book.”
“Energy and Civilisation” by Vaclav Smil
Gates is such a fan of Vaclav Smil’s “Energy and Civilisation,” he’s highlighted the book two years in a row. Last year, the Microsoft founder admitted he “wait[s] for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next ‘Star Wars’ movie.”
As its name suggests, “Energy and Civilisation” explains how energy has made life possible throughout history, starting with things like root gathering and donkey-powered mills.
The book ultimately argues that energy consumption is tied to economic growth, and that the transition to clean energy will be a slow one.
“Smil is absolutely right that the transition to clean energy will not happen overnight,” Gates wrote on Twitter. “But I am more optimistic than he is. I think innovation – and the urgency brought on by climate change – will speed up the process.”
“Enlightenment Now” by Steven Pinker
In January, Gates wrote that Steven Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now” is the best book he’s ever read.
The book argues that the world is getting better, tracking violence over time and examining measures of progress like safety, knowledge, and quality of life. Though Pinker includes a ton of information in the book, Gates said the book remained compelling and easy to digest.
Gates’ favourite tidbits include the fact that people are much less likely to die on the job now compared with the 1920s and 37 times less likely to be killed by lightning now than they were at the turn of the 21st century.
Gates said he mostly agrees with Pinker’s observations, but believes the author is too optimistic about artificial intelligence. The fear of robots overthrowing humans is a valid one to have, Gates wrote.
“Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari
Gates has also recommended Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens” multiple years in a row.
The book, which recaps the last 70,000 years of human history in about 400 pages, explains how Homo sapiens managed to dominate the planet and where we go from here.
“What’s unique about Harari’s take is that he focuses on the power of stories and myths to bring people together,” Gates wrote in his first review of the book in 2016.
But Gates still questions some arguments, such as the claim that the agricultural revolution was one of the biggest mistakes in our history. Regardless, Gates wrote, “Sapiens” is a fun and stimulating read.
“Thirst” by Scott Harrison
Gates wrote he’s never seen a story like Scott Harrison’s.
In “Thirst,” Harrison describes spending a decade as a nightclub promoter in New York City, where his life revolved around drugs and alcohol. After leaving the scene, he spent more than a year on a hospital ship in West Africa and later founded a charity that brought clean drinking water to millions of people around the world.
“I’ve seen first-hand how access to safe drinking water can change a person’s life,” Gates wrote on Facebook in 2016, after sharing a video from Harrison’s charity. “One organisation is working to make this possible for everyone.”
“Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah
Gates, who is a big fan of Trevor Noah’s “The Daily Show,” recommended the comedian’s memoir on Twitter this year.
In a blog post last year, Gates described Noah’s comedy as so universal, it could transcend borders. He also noted that “Born a Crime” is a message about the power of language – Noah used his knowledge of several languages to connect with other people in apartheid South Africa, where being mixed-race was a crime.
“Again and again throughout his childhood, [Noah] discovered that language was more powerful than skin colour in building connections with other people,” Gates wrote.
“New Power” by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms
Gates tweeted his congratulations to the authors of “New Power” in April, saying that the book “looks like an interesting read.”
“New Power” explores the rise of population movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, along with the growth of companies like Facebook and Uber. It also examines the dark side of cultural forces like ISIS and the alt-right.
The title has been recommended by another billionaire, Richard Branson, who called it “a useful lens to use when thinking about how business has changed, how to spread ideas or start a movement, or create change.”
“Capitalism Without Capital” by Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake
Gates’ blog identified one trend in the global economy that isn’t getting enough attention: the rise of products, like software and insurance, with production costs that don’t increase with supply.
“Capitalism Without Capital” does a great job explaining why this matters, Gates wrote. The book doesn’t include much commentary and is written like a textbook, he said.
While Gates said he found the book eye-opening, readers should have some familiarity with economics before picking it up.
“Social Value Investing” by Howard W. Buffett and William B. Eimicke
Howard W. Buffett’s new book explains how collaboration can help people solve big problems, Gates wrote on Twitter in June.
Buffett and William B. Eimicke introduce a five-part framework for determining the success of partnerships, using examples such as economic development in Afghanistan and improvements to public services in Brazilian cities.
For each major collaboration described in the book, readers can read academic case material and watch related video documentaries.
“Measure What Matters” by John Doerr
Gates recommends John Doerr’s “Measure What Matters” to anyone who wants to improve their management skills.
Doerr, a venture capitalist, developed a system called Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and uses the book to describe how it works and can be applied.
The OKR system was inspired by the work of Andy Grove, the Intel founder who helped Gates improve his own management skills.
“Turtles All the Way Down” by John Green
Gates’ daughter, Phoebe, has converted the whole family into fans of John Green’s books.
“Turtles All the Way Down” tells the story of 16-year-old Aza, who sets out to find a local billionaire after he goes missing. A large part of the book focuses on Aza’s obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety.
Gates said he enjoyed Green’s novel, calling it a moving story with relatable characters.
Phoebe Gates wrote on her father’s blog that the book resonates with her because of the billionaire’s son, Davis, who expects others to use him to get close to his father.
“Never has a book been able to capture so well what it is like to live in the shadow of someone else’s legacy,” Phoebe Gates wrote. “This story shows how Davis struggled to find his own identity outside of his father’s fame and wealth. Although we have very different relationships with our dads, I recognised his struggle, which also plays into my own life as I find my way in this world.”
“When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi
In “When Breath Becomes Air,” Paul Kalanithi describes his journey from becoming a doctor to being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
The book was published after Kalanithi died, and his wife Lucy completed it with an epilogue.
Gates wrote that Kalanithi’s book earned his admiration and left him in tears. He praised the author for illustrating the high stakes of being a surgeon and noted the eloquence of Kalanithi’s writing.
“I don’t know how Kalanithi found the physical strength to write this book while he was so debilitated by the disease and then potent chemotherapy,” Gates wrote. “But I’m so glad he did.”
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