Bill Gates has a new favourite book -- and he says everyone should read it

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)
  • Bill Gates has a new favourite book, dethroning a book that has stayed at the top spot for more than a decade.
  • The book is “Enlightenment Now” by cognitive scientist Steven Pinker.
  • Pinker examines 15 metrics of human progress, making the case that life is far better today than it has ever been.

Billionaire philanthropist and avid reader Bill Gates has announced, after more than a decade, that he’s got a new favourite book.

The book is “Enlightenment Now” by cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, and true to the typical bibliophile’s ways, Gates thinks everyone should read it.

Pinker is held in high regard by the former Microsoft CEO. For years, Gates has recommended another of Pinker’s books, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” as his favourite book. The 832-page text reviews the history, and decline, of violence around the world.

The data prove the world is getting better

Pinker’s new book, released later this February, tackles a similar topic, Gates explained in a recent blog post.

“Enlightenment Now” builds on “Better Angels” to include 15 different metrics for measuring human progress, including health, science, and knowledge. Pinker makes the case that life is far better today, despite its many difficulties, than it was centuries – or even decades – ago.

Steven pinker 01Rose Lincoln/Harvard UniversitySteven Pinker, a Harvard cognitive scientist, has written a great deal on the ways humanity has improved.

“I read the book slowly since I loved it so much,” Gates wrote on his blog, “but I think most people will find it a quick and accessible read. He manages to share a ton of information in a way that’s compelling, memorable, and easy to digest.”

Gates shared some of the facts Pinker highlights in the book, including amusing stats like the average time spent doing laundry over the years (in 1920 it was 11.5 hours per week, while in 2014 it was 1.5 hours). He also highlighted major leaps in civility, such as the 1945 formation of the United Nations making war illegal.

People still think things are getting worse

The book is especially moving for Gates because he has spent a great deal of time wrestling with the public’s misperception of progress. In September 2017, Gates and his wife Melinda released a report through their charity, the Gates Foundation, outlining the many ways the world has gotten better over the past century.

Gates still has trouble siding with Pinker on all issues. Pinker is “a bit too optimistic” about artificial intelligence, Gates argued in his blog post.

“While I don’t think we’re in danger of a Terminator-style scenario,” he wrote, “the question underlying that fear – who exactly controls the robots? – is a valid one.”

But when it comes to large-scale improvements in the ways humans interact with one another, with technology, and with the physical world, there’s no question in Gates’ mind that now is the best possible time to be born.

“The world is getting better, even if it doesn’t always feel that way,” he wrote. “I’m glad we have brilliant thinkers like Steven Pinker to help us see the big picture.”

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