Oprah has her book club. Mark Zuckerberg had his Year of Books. And Bill Gates has his annual reading lists — book recommendations shared each year by the Microsoft founder and philanthropist.
Gates’ 2016 list of summertime reads, complete with an animated video describing his picks, was released on Tuesday in a post on his blog, GatesNotes. Light beach fare, it’s not. Four non-fiction books about math, the role of energy in biology, Japan’s economy and the history of the human race — plus an 880-page science fiction novel described in one review as “thought experiment as extreme sport” — round out this year’s five suggestions.
“This summer, my recommended reading list has a good dose of books with science and math at their core,” Gates writes. “But there’s no science or math to my selection process. The following five books are simply ones that I loved, made me think in new ways, and kept me up reading long past when I should have gone to sleep.”
Four non-fiction books about math, the role of energy in biology, Japan’s economy and the history of the human race — plus an 880-page science fiction novel described in one review as “thought experiment as extreme sport” — round out this year’s five suggestions.
A wonky reading list might be expected, of course, from a leader who founded both one of the world’s largest technology companies and a foundation working to try and fix global poverty, public health in the developing world and America’s education system. Of the few dozen books Gates has reviewed, recommended or put down to read himself on his summer reading lists, only three have been novels, along with a couple of comic books last year. And only a couple — the out-of-print 1991 book Business Adventures by John Brooks, and a memoir by entrepreneur Eli Broad — would qualify as business books.
The rest are culled from fields as diverse as economics, science, history and psychology, with a few biographies thrown in. They’re also often long: From The Better Angels of Our Nature (2012, 832 pages) to The Quest (2012, 816 pages) to The Bully Pulpit (2014, 928 pages), Gates isn’t afraid of hefty reads. He often writes reviews of the books he reads, and if his summer lists aren’t enough serious reading for you, Gates puts together lists of his favourites of the year in December, too.
So what’s on this year’s summer list? Below, his five picks, with snippets from his reviews:
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
“You might lose patience with all the information you’ll get about space flight — Stephenson, who lives in Seattle, has clearly done his research — but I loved the technical details. Seveneves inspired me to rekindle my sci-fi habit.” A virtual reality video of Gates and Stephenson chatting about the book and stopping for burgers together is embedded in a new online review, where Gates says the book “pushes you to think big and long-term”.
How Not to be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg
“The book’s larger point is that, as Ellenberg writes, ‘to do mathematics is to be, at once, touched by fire and bound by reason’ — and that there are ways in which we’re all doing math, all the time.”
The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life by Nick Lane
“Nick is one of those original thinkers who makes you say: more people should know about this guy’s work ... Even if the details of Nick’s work turn out to be wrong, I suspect his focus on energy will be seen as an important contribution to our understanding of where we come from.”
The Power to Compete: An Economist and an Entrepreneur on Revitalizing Japan in the Global Economy by Ryoichi Mikitani and Hiroshi Mikitani
“Japan is intensely interesting to anyone who follows global economics. Why were its companies — the juggernauts of the 1980s — eclipsed by competitors in South Korea and China? And can they come back? ... The Power to Compete is a smart look at the future of a fascinating country.”
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
“Harari takes on a daunting challenge: to tell the entire history of the human race in just 400 pages ... Although I found things to disagree with — especially Harari’s claim that humans were better off before we started farming — I would recommend Sapiens to anyone who’s interested in the history and future of our species.”
—By arrangement with The Washington Post
Originally published in Dawn, May 20th, 2016