5 Books Bill Gates Wants You to Read This Summer

Bill Gates — Microsoft CEO turned phil­an­thropist and life­long learner—has just rec­om­mend­ed five books to put on your sum­mer read­ing list. If you’re look­ing for a light beach read, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if you have a Gates-like mind, you might find that these books will make you “think in new ways” and per­haps keep you up past your bed­time. On his web­site, the video above comes accom­pa­nied by rea­sons for read­ing each work. Below we’re quot­ing direct­ly from Mr. Gates:

Sev­en­eves, by Neal Stephen­son. I hadn’t read any sci­ence fic­tion for a decade when a friend rec­om­mend­ed this nov­el. I’m glad she did. The plot gets going in the first sen­tence, when the moon blows up. Peo­ple fig­ure out that in two years a cat­a­clysmic mete­or show­er will wipe out all life on Earth, so the world unites on a plan to keep human­i­ty going by launch­ing as many space­craft as pos­si­ble into orbit. 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.

How Not to be Wrong, by Jor­dan Ellen­berg. Ellen­berg, a math­e­mati­cian and writer, explains how math plays into our dai­ly lives with­out our even know­ing it. 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. In some places the math gets quite com­pli­cat­ed, but he always wraps things up by mak­ing sure you’re still with him. 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, by Nick Lane. Nick is one of those orig­i­nal thinkers who makes you say: More peo­ple should know about this guy’s work. He is try­ing to right a sci­en­tif­ic wrong by get­ting peo­ple to ful­ly appre­ci­ate the role that ener­gy plays in all liv­ing things. He argues that we can only under­stand how life began, and how liv­ing things got so com­plex, by under­stand­ing how ener­gy works. It’s not just the­o­ret­i­cal; mito­chon­dria (the pow­er plants in our cells) could play a role in fight­ing can­cer and mal­nu­tri­tion. 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, by Ryoichi Mik­i­tani and Hiroshi Mik­i­tani. I have a soft spot for Japan that dates back three decades or so, when I first trav­eled there for Microsoft. Today, of course, 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? Those ques­tions are at the heart of this series of dia­logues between Ryoichi, an econ­o­mist who died in 2013, and his son Hiroshi, founder of the Inter­net com­pa­ny Rakuten. Although I don’t agree with every­thing in Hiroshi’s pro­gram, I think he has a num­ber of good ideas. The Pow­er to Com­pete is a smart look at the future of a fas­ci­nat­ing coun­try.

Sapi­ens: A Brief His­to­ry of Humankind, by Noah Yuval Harari. Both Melin­da and I read this one, 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. He also writes about our species today and how arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, genet­ic engi­neer­ing, and oth­er tech­nolo­gies will change us in the future. 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.

You can get more ideas from Bill Gates at Gates Notes.

If you’re look­ing to do some more DIY edu­ca­tion this sum­mer, don’t miss the fol­low­ing rich col­lec­tions:

700 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

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1200 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

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