How Bill Gates Reads Books

If you’re a ded­i­cat­ed read­er of our site, you know that we’ve peri­od­i­cal­ly high­light­ed Bill Gates’ favorite books. (See his lists from 20152016 and 2017, plus this rec­om­men­da­tion made ear­li­er this year.) You also know that his read­ing diet skews heav­i­ly towards non-fiction–towards books like Enlight­en­ment Now by Steven PinkerSapi­ens: A Brief His­to­ry of Humankind by Noah Yuval Harari, and Mind­set: The New Psy­chol­o­gy of Suc­cess by Car­ol S. Dweck.

That’s what Gates likes to read. But how about how he reads? How does Gates get the most out of his time spent read­ing? As he explains in the Quartz video above, it boils down to this:

  1. Take Notes in the Mar­gins: That sim­ple step helps ensure that you’re real­ly pay­ing atten­tion and engag­ing crit­i­cal­ly with the text. It lets you “take in new knowl­edge and attach it to knowl­edge you already have.”
  2. Don’t Start What You Can’t Fin­ish: Gates does­n’t explain why you should nev­er cut your loss­es. Maybe it’s a form of self-dis­ci­pline. Maybe it’s a fear of miss­ing out on what a book promis­es to deliv­er. Or maybe it’s the sunk cost fal­la­cy. Either way, Gates does rec­om­mend pick­ing your books care­ful­ly before you get start­ed.
  3. Paper Books, Not eBooks: Bet­ter for mar­gin­a­lia, for sure.
  4. Block Out an Hour of Read­ing Time: You can’t read a seri­ous book in a short sit­ting. To real­ly engage with a book, give it a good hour each day. A tall order, I known, in our age of ever-declin­ing atten­tion spans.

To be sure, you have your own read­ing prac­tices to rec­om­mend. Please don’t hes­i­tate to add them to the com­ments sec­tion below.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bill Gates, Book Crit­ic, Names His Top 5 Books of 2015

Six Books (and One Blog) Bill Gates Wants You to Read This Sum­mer

Take Big His­to­ry: A Free Short Course on 13.8 Bil­lion Years of His­to­ry, Fund­ed by Bill Gates

View Bill Gates’ Mobile Library: The Books & Cours­es That Help Him Change The World

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.