He recently wrote a list of recommended reads in honour of the TED 2015 conference on his blog, and they include thoroughly Gatesian themes: business, history, and public health.
1. “Business Adventures” by John Brooks
A collection of John Brooks’ writings for the New Yorker published in 1969, “Business Adventures” came to Gates by way of recommendation from Warren Buffett. Last year, Gates revealed that it was his favourite business book, pushing it onto the bestseller lists.
“Even though Brooks wrote more than four decades ago,” Gates writes, “he offers sharp insights into timeless fundamentals of business, like the challenge of building a large organisation, hiring people with the right skills, and listening to customers’ feedback.”
2. “The Bully Pulpit” by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Like us, Gates is fascinated by the way Theodore Roosevelt was able to shape the US, from busting trusts to setting up a park system.
For this reason, Gates appreciates how Goodwin’s biography “The Bully Pulpit” uses the presidency as a lens for understanding the how social change happens — not by a single person’s will, but through collaboration.
“Roosevelt’s famous soft speaking and big stick were not effective in driving progressive reforms until journalists at McClure’s and other publications rallied public support,” Gates writes.
3. “On Immunity” by Eula Biss
Even though the science all says that vaccines are among the most important inventions in human history, there’s still a debate about whether they’re a good idea.
In “On Immunity,” essayist Eula Biss pulls apart that argument.
She “uses the tools of literary analysis, philosophy, and science to examine the speedy, inaccurate rumours about childhood vaccines that have proliferated among well-meaning American parents,” Gates writes. “Biss took up this topic not for academic reasons but because of her new role as a mum.”
4. “Making the Modern World” by Vaclav Smil
Gates says that Smil, a historian and environmental scientist, is his “favourite living author” because he is “an original thinker who never gives simple answers to complex questions.”
In “Making the Modern World,” Smil looks at the materials — iron, cement, plastic — that build modern life.
“The book is full of staggering statistics,” Gates says. “For example, China used more cement in just three years than the US used in the entire 20th century!”
5. “How Asia Works” by Joe Studwell
Joe Studwell is a business journalist whose central mission is understanding “development.”
Gates says that the book’s thesis goes like this:
All the countries that become development success stories (1) create conditions for small farmers to thrive, (2) use the proceeds from agricultural surpluses to build a manufacturing base that is tooled from the start to produce exports, and (3) nurture both these sectors with financial institutions closely controlled by the government.
6. “How to Lie with Statistics” by Darrell Huff
Published in 1954, “How to Lie with Statistics” is an introduction to statistics — and a primer on how they can be manipulated.
It’s “more relevant than ever,” Gates says.
“One chapter shows you how visuals can be used to exaggerate trends and give distorted comparisons,” he says. “It’s a timely reminder, given how often infographics show up in your Facebook and Twitter feeds these days.”
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