Bill Gates has a new set of summer reading recommendations for you. It’s become something of a tradition for the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist to share a handful of picks for the season each year, perhaps with the thought that vacations and sometimes slower summer months are more conducive to reading.
In any case, 2018 is no different. And for admirers hoping to emulate even a fraction of the man’s success, Gates’ reading choices offer a window into what he’s been thinking about, if not the secret to becoming a billionaire.
Published on his blog, Gates Notes, the list includes titles in fiction, non-fiction, and memoir. There’s short story writer George Saunders’ highly-anticipated and award-winning first novel Lincoln in the Bardo; Walter Isaacson’s most recent biography Leonardo da Vinci; Kate Bowler’s memoir Everything Happens for a Reason: and Other Lies I’ve Loved; Origin Story: A Big History of Everything by David Christian, a scholar who teaches in the young discipline of Big History; and Factfulness: 10 Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by the late global-health lecturer Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund.
Gates gives short explanations for each pick, telling readers that Isaacson is able to capture better than anyone else what made da Vinci so exceptional and that Bowler’s book is “a heartbreaking, surprisingly funny memoir about faith and coming to grips with your own mortality.” He explains that Factfulness “is one of the best books I’ve ever read,” that Lincoln in the Bardo “is one of those fascinating, ambiguous books you’ll want to discuss with a friend when you’re done,” and that Origin Story “will leave you with a greater appreciation of humanity’s place in the universe.”
“Several of my choices wrestle with big questions. What makes a genius tick? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where does humanity come from, and where are we headed?” Gates writes. But “despite the heavy subject matter, all these books were fun to read.”
He even discusses his selections in a video featuring several puppies (in case you weren’t sold with just the books).
You’ll notice something about Gates’s picks over the years: They’re not all about business. Some are—like Business Adventures: 12 Classic Tales From the World of Wall Street by John Brooks on his 2014 list, a book he says was a recommendation from fellow billionaire Warren Buffett and is “still the best business book I’ve ever read”—but those are rare overall.
What he’s saying implicitly is that you should open your mind to all kinds of literature that’ll help you think in new ways about people, ideas, and the world we live in. That doesn’t run counter to professional success. Just the opposite.
Gates has said he reads about 50 books a year and often posts his reviews on his blog. But he’s also talked about how he reads to get the most out of the experience. He concentrates and thinks about what he’s reading, jots down notes in the margins of his old-school paper books, never starts a book he can’t or won’t finish, and blocks out at least an hour for reading sessions so he can really dig in and make some progress.
So whether you’re off for a long weekend, out early on a summer Friday, away for a true vacation, or just winding down before bed, consider picking up a book instead of bingeing yet another show or scrolling mindlessly through your social media feeds. And “I don’t know what to read” isn’t a great excuse. You’ve got years’ worth of recommendations here to get you started.
Photo of Bill Gates courtesy of Jamie McCarthy/Staff/Getty Images.
A longtime word nerd and bookworm, Stav studied history and dance at Stanford and later journalism at Columbia. Before joining The Muse, Stav was a staff writer at Newsweek, where she wrote about everything from Nazi hunters to Chinese adoptees to Good Girls Revolt, the real story and fictionalized TV show about a 1970 gender discrimination case at the magazine. She prefers sunshine and tolerates winters grudgingly.More from this Author