Melinda Gates loves an intellectual debate — as long as the arguments don’t feel personal. In fact, the philanthropist and former Microsoft product manager says the combative environment of early-days Microsoft almost made her leave the company.
In her conversation with self-professed “argumentative person” Ezra Klein, during a live taping of The Ezra Klein Show at South by Southwest, Gates opened up about that time in her life, how to be a good manager, why we need more diversity in tech, and her fears and hopes for the future.
At the end of each episode, Ezra asks the guest for three books that they think everyone should read. According to Melinda Gates, she and her husband will often pass off books that they’ve enjoyed to each other, which is likely why two of the three books she recommended feature blurbs from Bill Gates.
Historian Yuval Noah Harari’s book (one of Barack Obama’s 2015 summer reading picks) Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind marries biology and history in a sweeping overview of how we as a species arrived at the present. Harari tracks the revolutions that compelled us forward and puts our comparatively brief time on the planet into perspective. He tackles these heavy topics with a “fun and engaging” tone, according to a Bill Gates blurb.
The book that changed Melinda Gates’s perspective on Africa and, to some extent, the world was Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. The novel, set in 1940s South Africa, illustrates the racial and social divides that gave way to Apartheid. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation works to address global issues of education, poverty, and health care, with an office in South Africa dedicated to HIV and TB research.
Melinda Gates was reluctant to recommend her last pick because she’s only a quarter of the way through with it and “that a little dangerous,” Still, she says, with three quarters left to go, Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now is already changing the way she thinks about some things. It’s Bill Gates’s favorite book right now and Pinker was a recent guest on The Ezra Klein Show, so we’re happy to give this recommendation a cosign.
Enlightenment Now is a passionate defense of enlightenment values of “reason, science, and humanism” in a society that falls back on destructive tendencies like “tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, [and] magical thinking” in times of crisis.