When asked what advice he had for young people who want to make a positive impact in this world as part of a recent Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anytihing’ask me anything’) recently, Bill Gates’ first suggestion was: “Reads a lot”.
Of course, he has followed his own advice. The billionaire businessman turned philanthropist and super-reader never stops recommending books on his blog.
Of the dozens and dozens of titles you’ve mentioned over the years, which are your favorites? Over the course of the AMA Gates also responds to that, naming eight diverse titles that he considers among his best books of all time.
1. The great transitions, by Vaclav Smil
Wheno Gates reviewed this book back in 2019, calling it a “masterpiece” by “one of my favorite thinkers.” Although he warned that the book “is not for everyone” and? “long sections read like a textbook or engineering manual”also insisted that Smil’s examination of the growth of almost everything, from dinosaurs to the number of transistors on a computer chip, is nothing short of brilliant. «No one sees the big picture with as wide an aperture as Vaclav Smil»Gates concluded.
2. How the World Really Works, by Vaclav Smil
Another title from the Czech-Canadian professor and Gates’ favorite author, this is apparently a light read compared to Smil’s other, more technical tomes. The book “represents the highly readable distillation of a lifetime of scholarship”, according to The Wall Street Journal. It gives readers an overview of exactly how our material world is made, from concrete to fertilizer.
3. The Better Angels of Our Nature, by Steven Pinker
“The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, by Steven Pinker, stands out as one of the most important books I’ve read… not just this year, but always,” Gates wrote back in 2012. His opinion apparently hasn’t changed in a decade.
Gates also has good things to say about Enlightenment Now, the Harvard professor’s follow-up book that argues that, despite appearances, our world is not only becoming less violent, but also more rational, prosperous, and generally better. If you’re looking for a ray of sunshine amidst the current gloom, perhaps you can pick up one of these titles.
4. The Coddling of the American Mind, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
In his AMA, Gates says he just finished this book by a First Amendment expert and social psychologist about the growing unwillingness to engage with difficult ideas on college campuses, declaring it “good.” Many critics seem to agree.
The authors “they do a great job of showing how securitysmo’ is cornering young minds. “Students are treated like candles, which can be blown out with a breath of wind,” wrote Edward Luce in the Financial Times, concluding: «Your book is excellent. Liberal parents, in particular, should read it.
5. Why We Are Polarized, by Ezra Klein
This topical book by the well-known journalist and political analyst is also considered “good” by Gates. The deeply researched book analyzes what is driving the division of Americans into highly partisan political camps.
“Reading Why We Are Polarized is like having a conversation with a brilliant and extremely persuasive friend who has read everything and is armed with dozens of studies that he is able to distill into accessible bites.”says Amy Chua in Foreign Affairs.
6. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
Gates admits that he reads a lot more nonfiction than fiction, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get deeply moved by a novel from time to time. In fact, he includes three on his list of the best books ever. In his 2019 review of this one about a Russian count sentenced to 30 years of house arrest in a hotel by the Bolsheviks, he confesses that the novel made him cry.
«A Knight in Moscow is a surprising story because it manages to be a little of everything. There is fantastic romance, politics, espionage, fatherhood and poetry »he writes, and suggests it not only for students of Russian history, but for everyone who likes a great story well told.
7. The heart, by Maylis de Kerangal
I have to confess that I’m not entirely sure about this one, since Gates says that only “The Heart” is one of his favorites and there are many books out there with the word “Heart” in the title. But I think it’s likely he’s referring to this novel about the untimely death of a young man and his family’s decision to donate his heart, because Gates wrote a glowing review about it several years ago.
“It is poetry disguised as a novel”Gates said of the book at the time, noting: “Sometimes I found myself reading slower than usual, simply because the way he describes things is so beautiful,” and adds that the book forced him to confront the depth of pain of parents who have lost a child they encounter in the course of their philanthropic work.
8. All the light we cannot see, by Anthony Doerr
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel follows the story of a German soldier and a blind French girl whose lives collide during World War II. Critics used words like mesmerizing, exquisite, astonishing, moving and hauntingly beautiful to describe it. Gates also apparently fell under the spell of the novel, as it was the last book on his list of all-time favorites.