Bill Gates Picks 5 Good Books for a Lousy Year

2020 has been a ter­ri­ble year. But that has­n’t stopped Bill Gates (as is his cus­tom) from choos­ing, he says, “five books that I enjoyed—some because they helped me go deep­er on a tough issue, oth­ers because they offered a wel­come change of pace.”

Below, you can read, in his own words, the selec­tions he pub­lished here.

Range: Why Gen­er­al­ists Tri­umph in a Spe­cial­ized World, by David Epstein. I start­ed fol­low­ing Epstein’s work after watch­ing his fan­tas­tic 2014 TED talk on sports per­for­mance. In this fas­ci­nat­ing book, he argues that although the world seems to demand more and more specialization—in your career, for example—what we actu­al­ly need is more peo­ple “who start broad and embrace diverse expe­ri­ences and per­spec­tives while they progress.” His exam­ples run from Roger Fed­er­er to Charles Dar­win to Cold War-era experts on Sovi­et affairs. I think his ideas even help explain some of Microsoft’s suc­cess, because we hired peo­ple who had real breadth with­in their field and across domains. If you’re a gen­er­al­ist who has ever felt over­shad­owed by your spe­cial­ist col­leagues, this book is for you. More on the book here.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incar­cer­a­tion in the Age of Col­or­blind­nessby Michelle Alexan­der. Like many white peo­ple, I’ve tried to deep­en my under­stand­ing of sys­temic racism in recent months. Alexander’s book offers an eye-open­ing look into how the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem unfair­ly tar­gets com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, and espe­cial­ly Black com­mu­ni­ties. It’s espe­cial­ly good at explain­ing the his­to­ry and the num­bers behind mass incar­cer­a­tion. I was famil­iar with some of the data, but Alexan­der real­ly helps put it in con­text. I fin­ished the book more con­vinced than ever that we need a more just approach to sen­tenc­ing and more invest­ment in com­mu­ni­ties of col­or. More on the book here.

The Splen­did and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Fam­i­ly, and Defi­ance Dur­ing the Blitzby Erik Lar­son. Some­times his­to­ry books end up feel­ing more rel­e­vant than their authors could have imag­ined. That’s the case with this bril­liant account of the years 1940 and 1941, when Eng­lish cit­i­zens spent almost every night hud­dled in base­ments and Tube sta­tions as Ger­many tried to bomb them into sub­mis­sion. The fear and anx­i­ety they felt—while much more severe than what we’re expe­ri­enc­ing with COVID-19—sounded famil­iar. Lar­son gives you a vivid sense of what life was like for aver­age cit­i­zens dur­ing this awful peri­od, and he does a great job pro­fil­ing some of the British lead­ers who saw them through the cri­sis, includ­ing Win­ston Churchill and his close advis­ers. Its scope is too nar­row to be the only book you ever read on World War II, but it’s a great addi­tion to the lit­er­a­ture focused on that trag­ic peri­od. More on the book here.

The Spy and the Trai­tor: The Great­est Espi­onage Sto­ry of the Cold Warby Ben Mac­in­tyre. This non­fic­tion account focus­es on Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB offi­cer who became a dou­ble agent for the British, and Aldrich Ames, the Amer­i­can turn­coat who like­ly betrayed him. Macintyre’s retelling of their sto­ries comes not only from West­ern sources (includ­ing Gordievsky him­self) but also from the Russ­ian per­spec­tive. It’s every bit as excit­ing as my favorite spy nov­els. More on the book here.

Breath from Salt: A Dead­ly Genet­ic Dis­ease, a New Era in Sci­ence, and the Patients and Fam­i­lies Who Changed Med­i­cine, by Bijal P. Trive­di. This book is tru­ly uplift­ing. It doc­u­ments a sto­ry of remark­able sci­en­tif­ic inno­va­tion and how it has improved the lives of almost all cys­tic fibro­sis patients and their fam­i­lies. This sto­ry is espe­cial­ly mean­ing­ful to me because I know fam­i­lies who’ve ben­e­fit­ed from the new med­i­cines described in this book. I sus­pect we’ll see many more books like this in the com­ing years, as bio­med­ical mir­a­cles emerge from labs at an ever-greater pace. More on the book here.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon. If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bill Gates Describes His Biggest Fear: “I Rate the Chance of a Wide­spread Epi­dem­ic Far Worse Than Ebo­la at Well Over 50 Per­cent” (2015)

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

Bill Gates Rec­om­mends 5 Thought-Pro­vok­ing Books to Read This Sum­mer

How Bill Gates Reads Books

Bill Gates Names His New Favorite Book of All Time

by | Permalink | Comments (10) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (10)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.