If there was one common theme in Bill Gates’ list of favorite books this year, it would be “how things work.” These book topics range from how sustainable materials are used and how “complicated” stuff works to what it takes to get rid of deadly diseases and thought-provoking insights on virtues and traits.
Here is Bill Gates annual list of the best books he read this year:
- The Road to Character, by David Brooks.
“I wrote this book not sure I could follow the road to character, but I wanted at least to know what the road looks like and how other people have trodden it.”—David Brooks
“The insightful New York Times columnist examines the contrasting values that motivate all of us. He argues that American society does a good job of cultivating the “résumé virtues” (the traits that lead to external success) but not our “eulogy virtues” (the traits that lead to internal peace of mind). Brooks profiles various historical figures who were paragons of character,” writes Gates.
Gates continues on to say, “I thought his portrait of World War II General George Marshall was especially enlightening. Even if the distinction between the two types of virtues is not always crystal clear, The Road to Character gave me a lot to think about. It is a thought-provoking look at what it means to live life well.”
2. Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, by Randall Munroe.
“Have you ever tried to learn more about some incredible thing, only to be frustrated by incomprehensible jargon?” -Amazon
The brain behind XKCD explains various subjects—from how smartphones work to what the U.S. Constitution says—using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language and blueprint-style diagrams.
“It is a brilliant concept,” exclaims Gates, “because if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t really understand it. Munroe, who worked on robotics at NASA, is an ideal person to take it on. The book is filled with helpful explanations and drawings of everything from a dishwasher to a nuclear power plant. And Munroe’s jokes are laugh-out-loud funny. This is a wonderful guide for curious minds.”
3. Being Nixon: A Man Divided, by Evan Thomas.
Gates enjoyed this biography of former President Richard Nixon because “it was refreshing to see a more balanced account” of a man who “was a deeply unsympathetic person—but it is an empathetic one.”
Gates goes on to say, “Rather than just focusing on Nixon’s presidency, Thomas takes a cradle-to-the-grave approach and gives you sharp insights into the inner workings of a brilliant, flawed, and conflicted man.”
“Strangely enough, this puts the book in tune with our time… Instead of being passively read, Being Nixon invites argument.” -NYTimes
4. Sustainable Materials With Both Eyes Open, by Julian M. Allwood, Jonathan M. Cullen, et al.
A team at the University of Cambridge looked closely at the materials humans use most to show how we could cut carbon emissions by up to 50% without big sacrifices.
“Although the topic can be dry as a desert, the authors keep it light with lots of colorful illustrations and clever analogies without sacrificing clarity or rigor. I learned a lot from this thoughtful look at a critical topic.” -Gates
“Beginning with an all-encompassing examination of the uses of the five most important materials—steel, aluminum, cement, plastic, and paper—this exploration delves into the entire lifecycle of these materials, from smelting and goods manufacture to final recycling.” -Amazon
You can download the book for free here.
5. Eradication: Ridding the World of Diseases Forever?, by Nancy Leys Stepan.
“Stepan’s history of eradication efforts gives you a good sense of how involved the work can get, how many different kinds of approaches have been tried without success, and how much we’ve learned from our failures,” explaines Gates, “She writes in a fairly academic style that may make it hard for non-experts to get to her valuable arguments, but it’s worth the effort. You come away from it with a clearer sense of how we can use the lessons of the past to guide future efforts to save lives.”
“This book by the award-winning historian of medicine Nancy Leys Stepan is an accessible, beautifully written, and deeply researched examination of one of the most controversial issues in public health today.” -Cornell Press
“Given the disease-fighting work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it’s no surprise that this book intrigued Gates.” – Inc.
6. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck.
“World-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, in decades of research on achievement and success, has discovered a truly groundbreaking idea—the power of our mindset.” -Amazon
“This book first came to my attention a few years ago during an invention session on education with my friend Nathan Myrhvold. It’s been an important influence on the foundation’s education work. Through clever research studies and engaging writing, Dweck illuminates how our beliefs about our capabilities exert tremendous influence on how we learn and which paths we take in life. The value of this book extends way beyond the world of education. It’s just as relevant for businesspeople who want to cultivate talent and for parents who want to raise their kids to thrive on challenge.” -Gates
Honorable mention: “I read one book this year that definitely deserves a spot on this list, but I haven’t had time to give it the full write-up it deserves. “The Vital Question”, by Nick Lane, is an amazing inquiry into the origins of life. I loved it so much that I immediately bought all of Lane’s other books. And I jumped at the chance to meet Lane and talk to him about his research last September, when both of us were in New York City. I’ll post more about his fascinating work when I get the chance.” -Bill Gates