Book-Lover Bill Gates Says Reading Inspired His Philanthropy

The former Microsoft CEO has long been an avid bibliophile, regularly blogging his book recommendations and reviews.

The success of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—one of the largest private foundations in the world with an endowment of $67.3 billion—is largely due to his love of reading, said Bill Gates in a recent podcast interview with Trevor Noah.

Man in suit sits in green chair on panel
Bill Gates at the EU Commission headquarters in Belgium on October 11, 2023. Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

“I had a long period from about age 18 to 40 when I was very monomaniacal. That is, Microsoft (MSFT) was everything,” said the billionaire philanthropist while on Noah What Now? podcast. But when the Microsoft co-founder stepped away from his company, books began to take up his time. “I was lucky enough that as other people took over Microsoft, I got to go and read and learn all about health challenges, why children die,” he told Noah.

It’s no secret that Bill Gates loves books. The Microsoft CEO, who read an entire set of World Book encyclopedias as a child, was such an avid reader growing up that his parents banned him from bringing books to the dinner table.

His bibliophile nature endures to this day, with Gates regularly blogging book reviews and literary recommendations. His most recent set of holiday recommendations included Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Song of the Cell, an exploration of medicine and human cells, and Hannah Ritchie’s Not the End of the World, a data-focused take on climate change. But Gates doesn’t limit his reading list to nonfiction—his 2023 summer recommendations included Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, a novel Gates said reminded him of his friendship with the late Paul Allen, with whom he co-founded Microsoft.

When it comes to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which Gates founded more than two decades ago with his ex-wife Melinda French Gates, the nonprofit’s beginnings stem from a newspaper article the two read on how millions of children in impoverished nations were dying from diseases easily treatable in wealthier nations. “That blew our minds,” said the duo, who have both since pledged to give away the majority of their wealth, in a post on the nonprofit’s website.

When Gates in 2008 transitioned out of his full-time role at Microsoft, he took the time to immerse himself in subjects related to the fields of health, education and climate change and selected 25 science-focused titles to pore over, including Physics for Dummies and Weather for Dummies. His renewed reading habit “led to the Gates Foundation being my full-time work,” he told Noah.

What initiatives does the Gates Foundation support?

The Gates Foundation has doled out more than $71.4 billion since its inception and largely focuses on medical breakthroughs in underdeveloped nations and clean energy solutions. Much has been accomplished in both fields in recent decades, according to Gates, who cited the halving of child mortality deaths from 10 million in 2000 to less than 5 million today. “We’re continuing to make amazing progress on reducing childhood death,” he said on What Now? “And now people are realizing more than ever that if we don’t innovate to get rid of emissions, we’re going to be in deep trouble.”

Gates, who currently has an estimated net worth of  $116.8 billion, also discussed one of the more unusual capital sources empowering his philanthropy: farming. He owns around 275,000 acres of farmland, making him the biggest private landowner in the U.S. with a holding he estimates makes up 10 percent of his assets. By investing in this land and increasing productivity, Gates hopes to use the profits to aid his organization. “The decision to buy this land was made by people who help manage my money so that we get a good return so that the foundation can buy more vaccines,” he told Noah.

Book-Lover Bill Gates Says Reading Inspired His Philanthropy