Many of the brightest minds in technology, entertainment, business, and philanthropy have said they owe their success to reading.
Gates and Winfrey, along with a number of other successful people, have made book recommendations over the years. For last-minute Christmas shoppers, here are some titles book-lovers are bound to love.
Bill Gates, philanthropist: ‘The Gene: An Intimate History’ by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Genome science can hardly be considered a topic of mainstream interest, but Gates says Mukherjee captures its relevance to people’s daily lives. The book seeks to answer big questions concerning our personalities and what defines us.
“Mukherjee wrote this book for a lay audience, because he knows that the new genome technologies are at the cusp of affecting us all in profound ways,” Gates wrote.
Mukherjee is what Gates calls a “quadruple threat.” He’s a practicing physician, teacher, researcher, and author.
Bill Gates: ‘Seveneves’ by Neal Stephenson
After a science-fiction dry spell of more than a decade, Gates picked up “Seveneves” on a friend’s recommendation in 2016, and he says he’s grateful for it.
“The plot gets going in the first sentence, when the moon blows up,” he wrote.
But that’s only the beginning. The world soon learns the entire species is doomed: In two years, a cataclysmic meteor shower will destroy all life on the pale blue dot. It’s up to humanity to send as many spacecraft into orbit as possible with the hope of escaping the apocalypse.
“You might lose patience with all the information you’ll get about space flight,” Gates wrote, “but I loved the technical details.”
Bill Gates: ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ by Yuval Noah Harari
We weren’t always the only species of human being on Earth. Roughly 100,000 years ago, there were actually six varieties of people, but homo sapiens were the only ones who made it to today.
“Both Melinda and I read this one,” Gates said, “and it has sparked lots of great conversations at our dinner table. Harari takes on a daunting challenge: to tell the entire history of the human race in just 400 pages.”
But Harari doesn’t dwell on the past. He looks toward a future in which genetic engineering and artificial intelligence make our definition of “human” even more fluid.
“I would recommend Sapiens to anyone who’s interested in the history and future of our species,” Gates said.
Joi Ito, head of MIT Media Lab: ‘Change Agent’ by Daniel Suarez
“Change Agent,” a novel set in the year 2045, features CRISPR gene editing technology that has become so advanced that black-market traders sell procedures to alter DNA at will.
Some nefarious groups even exploit victims of human trafficking for experimentation.
Interpol agent Kenneth Durand is in charge of putting a stop to this underground economy, but his life quickly shifts directions when he’s injected with a serum that changes his DNA and turns him into the villain he wants to stop.
The novel explores a not-too-distant future in which science and morality clash.
Joi Ito: ‘The Industries of the Future’ by Alec Ross
As the former senior advisor for innovation to Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State, Alec Ross has some ideas about what 2026 will look like.
In “The Industries of the Future,” Ross delves deep into his 10-year vision. Robotic automation, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and renewable energy are just some of the fields that will come to define the 2020s, he writes.
The book also proposes approaches to dealing with that future and its consequences.
Oprah Winfrey, media mogul/philanthropist: ‘The Seat of the Soul’ by Gary Zukav
Winfrey credits Zukav’s 1989 book, which is about exerting power through well-intentioned, positive means rather than hostility, as one of the driving forces behind her talk show – and the eventual decision in 2011 to give it up.
“Every action, thought, and feeling is motivated by an intention,” Zukav wrote in the book, “and that intention is a cause that exists as one with an effect. If we participate in the cause, it is not possible for us not to participate in the effect.”
Winfrey has said this concept of “intention” has become a mantra for her personal and professional life.
Oprah Winfrey: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee
The timeless classic about a young girl, a misunderstood recluse, and racism in the deep south has been Winfrey’s favourite book since she was a young girl, she has said.
“I remember reading this book and then going to class and not being able to shut up about it,” she told The Baltimore Sun in 2010. “I read it in eighth or ninth grade, and I was trying to push the book off on other kids.”
Now, as an accomplished woman with her own TV network and magazine, Winfrey recalls the importance of the book in shaping who’d she become.
Richard Branson, Virgin CEO: ‘1984’ by George Orwell
Though the work of fiction was first published in 1950,“1984” has been echoing ever since the actual year came and went. The book envisions a dystopic future society in which the government monitors and in some cases punishes citizens’ every move.
Sales of the book spiked in late January of 2017 when Kellyanne Conway introduced the term “alternative facts.”
Branson included it on his list of the top 65 books to read in a lifetime, in part because of its timeliness in reminding people to stay vigilant and sceptical.
Richard Branson: ‘Travels with Charley in Search of America’ by John Steinbeck
Criss-crossing the US with his French poodle in tow, Steinbeck shares his experiences meeting America’s most down-home folks in “Travels with Charley.”
Steinbeck drives through national parks, back country roads, small towns, and big cities. He encounters every slice of Americana, and presents the reader with a full picture of the people who call the US home.
In a recent blog post, Branson recommended the book as a guide for living.
“It opens your eyes to the small pleasures of life, and the great wonders of humanity in the little moments that matter,” he wrote.
Richard Branson: ‘Cosmos’ by Carl Sagan
Published in 1980 in tandem with the TV show by the same name, “Cosmos” includes illustrated chapters meant to blow the reader’s mind.
Sagan, an astronomer, takes readers back tens of billions of years into the history of the universe and traces its evolution through cosmological and anthropological shifts.
The book is a seminal work and should humble anyone who starts to feel like they are the center of everything.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO: ‘On Immunity’ by Eula Biss
The anti-vaxxer movement sweeping across the US and Europe prompted Biss, a non-fiction writer, to investigate the benefits of vaccination.
As part of his 2015 online book club, Zuckerberg wrote that public-health workers recommended “On Immunity” to him. As vaccines help individuals avoid more infectious diseases, herd immunity kicks in and communities as a whole enjoy greater health.
“This book explores the reasons why some people question vaccines, and then logically explains why the doubts are unfounded and vaccines are in fact effective and safe,” Zuckerberg wrote.
Mark Zuckerberg: ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ by Thomas S. Kuhn
Published in 1962, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” is a seminal text in the history of science writing. It proposes a new way of thinking about breakthroughs in research, arguing that leaps forward occur separately from the minutiae of day-to-day work.
“It’s a history of science book that explores the question of whether science and technology make consistent forward progress or whether progress comes in bursts related to other social forces,” Zuckerberg wrote.
It’s as much a philosophy text as a science one.
Mark Zuckerberg: ‘The Beginning of Infinity’ by David Deutsch
Deutsch, a physicist by training, believes there are answers about the world waiting to be uncovered.
In “The Beginning of Infinity,”he argues that across fields – art, science, politics – humans can use the scientific method to discover just about any truth. The book was the final entry in Zuckerberg’s 2015 reading list.
“It’s fitting to end the year with [a book] about how the way we explain things unlocks greater possibilities,” he wrote.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.