On average, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates reads about 50 books every year. He’s been a lover of reading since childhood, and he carries that with him today. On his personal blog, GatesNotes, he frequently reviews books he’s read, including both fiction and nonfiction.
Here are 10 books Mr. Gates found particularly informative and thought-provoking and awarded with rave reviews. This particular collection covers an array of topics, but most importantly, encourages new ways to think and learn.
1. What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
This book by Randall Munroe (which is actually a compilation of posts from his wickedly popular blog xkcd) is equally whimsical and informative. He explores questions like “from what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hit the ground?” and “what would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?” and he provides explanations that are well-researched, sourced and scientifically valid, while still using a giraffe as a measurement for height. You’ll be entertained, and Mr. Gates says, “you’ll also learn about a lot of other things like ballistics, DNA, the oceans, the atmosphere and lightning.”
2. Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
In general, we’re particularly great at remembering things in our domains of expertise but pretty terrible at remembering things that are new or unimportant to us. But is there a way to learn more by improving memory across other domains? Author and science writer Joshua Foer put some ancient memory techniques to the test, and after only a year of training, went on to not only win the U.S. Memory Championship, but actually break the U.S. speed record for memorizing a deck of cards. When Mr. Gates reviewed this book by after its release in 2012, he called it, “absolutely phenomenal, one of the most interesting books I’ve read this summer.”
3. The Magic of Reality
In this Richard Dawkins book, he poses a question at the beginning of each chapter, offers colorful myths from different places around the world and finally reveals an elegant scientific answer. “It’s an engaging, well-illustrated science textbook offering compelling answers to big questions, from how the universe formed to what causes earthquakes,” Mr. Gates writes in his review. “It’s also a plea for readers of all ages to approach mysteries with rigor and curiosity, rather than buying into the supernatural myths at the core of most faith traditions.”
“I really liked Freakonomics, and I think SuperFreakonomics is even better,” writes Mr. Gates in his review for this sequel, adding that he recommends it to anyone who reads nonfiction. This book will tell you a little information about a lot of different things from hurricanes and climate change to U.S. healthcare and the ways people underestimate how much quality of life has improved.
5. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
Mr. Gates says that when he picked up this book by Steve Johnson, he was skeptical. “Lots of books have been written about innovation—what it is, the most innovative companies, how you measure it. The subject can seem a little faddish,” he writes. “But Johnson’s book is quite good at giving examples of how you create environments that can encourage good ideas.” In discussing how to create institutional structures that facilitate innovation instead of focussing on people who had good ideas and their eureka moments, the book examines patterns and puts forth ways we as individuals and a society can be more innovative.
6. Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words
In his latest book published in late November 2015, Mr. Munroe sets out to explain various subjects—from how smartphones work to what the U.S. Constitution says—without the complicated jargon. To accomplish this, he uses diagrams annotated using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language—a nuclear reactor is a “heavy metal power building” and a dishwasher is a “box that cleans food holders,” for example. In his review, Mr. Gates calls is a “brilliant concept” and says, “Thing Explainer is filled with cool basic knowledge about how the world works…He has written a wonderful guide for curious minds.”
7. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
In his review, Mr. Gates wrote he first discovered the research of author and Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck years ago at an invention session on education, and that her “research had a big impact on my thinking…[and has] helped my foundation, colleagues and me understand more about the attitudes and habits that allow some students to persevere in school despite big challenges.” The thesis of this book is that our genes influence our intelligence and talents, but these qualities are not fixed at birth. From reading about Ms. Dweck’s experiments, you can learn to have what she calls a “growth mindset,” with which you can learn and do more.
8. For the Love of Physics
“A little bit of physics goes a long way in helping you understand a huge number of things,” Mr. Gates writes in his review for this book, penned by the renowned former MIT professor Walter Lewin who is known for his thought-provoking and entertaining demonstration-based lectures. The book pushes the idea that as long as you understand concepts as basic as gravity and electromagnetism, you can use simple physics to understand a lot—from how GPS works and how a DVD can store a movie. Everyday mysteries like these find answers in For the Love of Physics.
9. Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales From the World of Wall Street
Both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet thinks there’s a lot to learn from this book by John Brooks: Mr. Buffet says it’s his favorite book about business and, in his review, Mr. Gates refers to it as “the best book about business he’s ever read,” saying it holds true even though it’s decades old (a collection of New Yorker articles from the 1960s, to be exact). “It’s certainly true that many of the particulars of business have changed. But the fundamentals have not,” he says.
10. Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients
In the early 2000s, medical doctor and economist Chris Murray set out on one of the greatest scientific quests of our time. He sought to create a comprehensive database that would explain the biggest causes of death and disability, how they compare and how it all changes over time and in different countries. He ended up making what is now known as the Global Burden of Disease (GBD)—it’s free and available to everyone (as he always intended it to be), and it’s now the world standard go-to resource for health data. This book by Jeremy N. Smith chronicles Mr. Murray’s journey to create this database as well as the information in it. “Epic Measures gives you a good sense of why all this is so important,” Mr. Gates writes in his review.
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