Bill Gates is not only one of the richest people on the planet, he is also one of the most avid readers.
On his book blog, he shares his love of reading and tells what’s currently on his bedside table. Hint: his tastes lean towards business, leadership, science and math (no surprise there). But he likes all kinds of books, especially accessible reads on weighty social issues.
Here are a dozen titles – ranging from fiction to fantasy – that he recommends:
- “Business Adventures,” by John Brooks. Genre: business nonfiction. Summary: Insights into the timeless fundamentals of business, such as building a large organization, hiring good people and listening to customer feedback. Gates’ take: “Warren Buffett recommended this book to me back in 1991, and it’s still the best business book I’ve ever read.”
- “Seveneves,” by Neal Stephenson. Genre: science fiction. Summary: The moon blows up and the earth faces total destruction. Gates’ take: “You might lose patience with all the information you’ll get about space flight, but I loved the technical details. Seveneves inspired me to rekindle my sci-fi habit.”
- “How Not to be Wrong,” by Jordan Ellenberg. Genre: math, human behavior. Summary: An explanation of how math affects almost all aspects of our daily lives without our even knowing it. Gates’ take: “Each chapter starts with a subject that seems fairly straightforward—electoral politics, say, or the Massachusetts lottery—and then uses it as a jumping-off point to talk about the math involved. [W]e’re all doing math, all the time.”
- “The Power to Compete,” by Ryoichi Mikitani and Hiroshi Mikitani. Genre: business nonfiction. Summary: Why are Japan’s business juggernauts of the ‘80s being eclipsed by competitors from South Korea and China? Gates’ take: “I have a soft spot for Japan that dates back three decades or so, when I first traveled there for Microsoft.”
- “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” by Noah Yuval Harari. Genre: science and engineering. Summary: The entire history of the human race encapsulated in a mere 400 pages. Gates’ take: “He writes about our species today and how artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and other technologies will change us in the future.”
- “The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins. Genre: fiction. Summary: Even Bill Gates couldn’t resist the struggle of Katniss Everdeen/Jennifer Lawrence to save humanity in a dystopian future. Gates’ take: “It was pretty exciting and also kind of disturbing.”
- “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Genre: history and biography. Summary: A lively account of Roosevelt’s accomplishments, his relationship with the press, his friendship with William Howard Taft, and his efforts to fight corruption and reform the political system.” Gates’ take: “I’m especially interested in the central question that Goodwin raises: How does social change happen? Can it be driven by a single inspirational leader, or do other factors have to lay the groundwork first?”
- “Stress Test,” by Timothy F. Geithner. Genre: history, finance. Summary: First-person account from the man in the middle of the federal government’s recovery efforts after the 2007 financial crisis. Gates’ take: “The central irony of Stress Test is that a guy who was accused of being a lousy communicator has penned a book that is such a good read. Geithner paints a compelling human portrait of what it was like to be fighting a global financial meltdown while at the same time fighting critics inside and outside the Administration as well as his own severe guilt over his near-total absence from his family.”
- “The Rosie Project: A Novel,” by Graeme Simsion. Genre: fiction. Summary: A genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome goes looking for a wife. Gates’ take: “Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero. Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right. It’s a funny and profound book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at.”
- “Parenting with Love and Logic,” by Foster Cline and Jim Fay. Genre: parenting, psychology. Summary: A guide to raising secure, confident kids who are prepared for the real world. Gates’ take: “How to parent effectively and teach responsibility without anger, threats, nagging, or power struggles.”
- “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History,” by Elizabeth Kolbert. Genre: science. Summary: Climate change is only one of many major environmental concerns that humans will have to deal with soon – or else. Gates’ take: “Natural scientists posit that there have been five extinction events in the Earth’s history (think of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs). Kolbert makes a compelling case that human activity is leading to the sixth.”
- “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” by Steven Pinker. Genre: history, psychology. Summary: Despite ceaseless news of war, crime and terrorism, violence has actually been in decline. Gates’ take: “For all the dangers we face today, the dangers of yesterday were even worse.”