clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

5 books Bill Gates says you should read this summer

Bill Gates, philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, has a summer reading list for interested parties, and the theme, somewhat unsurprisingly, is math and science.

"The following five books are simply ones that I loved, made me think in new ways, and kept me up reading long past when I should have gone to sleep," Gates wrote in his blog post.

He calls it an "eclectic list," from a science fiction novel about the world's end to a 400-page abbreviated history of the human race.

Here are the five books Gates thinks you should pick up this summer:

1) Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

A science fiction book about how people unite to save the human race after figuring out a meteor shower will wipe out all life on Earth in only two years. Gates said the book inspired him to rekindle his sci-fi habit, finding the novel to be a "thought-provoking" and enjoyable technical piece:

Stephenson tells you not just what happens, but how it happens. You’ll learn all about how orbits work and what it takes to connect two spacecraft in different orbits. You’ll learn the difference between fuel and propellant.

(And in case you want to know what it would be like to be in the room with Gates and Seveneves author Stephenson, there is also a virtual reality video of their interview. Because why not? You can watch it here.)

2) How Not to Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg

"On the surface it’s about math, but it’s really about how much math plays into our daily lives without our even knowing it," Gates wrote in his review of How Not to Be Wrong.

In a series of stories about how seemingly non-mathematical things are actually truly mathematical, Ellenberg set out to write about very complicated and cutting-edge thinking for a general audience. As Gates describes it, Ellenberg, a mathematics professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison, ended up writing a "love letter to math."

3) The Vital Question by Nick Lane

In a book about biology, biochemist Lane ventures to explain the importance of energy in all living things.

"He argues that we can only understand how life began, and how living things got so complex, by understanding how energy works," Gates writes. "Even if the details of Nick’s work turn out to be wrong, I suspect his focus on energy will be seen as an important contribution to our understanding of where we come from."

Gates said he finds Lane to be one of the world's "original thinkers," one who reminds him of Jared Diamond — "people who develop a grand theory that explains a lot about the world," Gates wrote. (He was so moved by Lane's book, he asked to interview Lane, which you can watch here.)

4) The Power to Compete by Ryoichi Mikitani and Hiroshi Mikitani

Wrapped inside conversations between a father and son — late economist Ryoichi Mikitani and his son Hiroshi Mikitani, the founder of the internet company Rakuten — The Power to Compete is a look at the future of Japan and whether the company that has piqued Gates's interest for some time can make a comeback.

In just over 200 pages, Gates said the dialogues float some interesting ideas:

Although I don’t agree with everything in Hiroshi’s program, I think he has a number of good ideas. He talks about bringing more women into the workforce and encouraging more people to learn and use English. And I would love to see Japanese companies become more innovative—not just because it will make them more competitive, but because the whole world benefits from great ideas and technologies, whoever invents them.

5) Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Noah Yuval Harari

In 400 pages, Israeli historian Harari tells the entire history of the human race.

Gates found it to be a "provocative" account raising many questions about the history of human existence on Earth, focusing on "the power of stories and myths to bring people together":

Although I found things to disagree with—especially Harari’s claim that humans were better off before we started farming—I would recommend Sapiens to anyone who’s interested in the history and future of our species.

Bill Gates reveals what he fears for humankind