Business Technology

Wednesday 18 September 2019

The 5 books Bill Gates thinks you should read this summer

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates topped the Forbes list of the world's billionaires for the second consecutive year (AP)
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates topped the Forbes list of the world's billionaires for the second consecutive year (AP)

Helena Horton

Want to know what the richest man in the world reads? Bill Gates has written a blog post, recommending five books to his fans and followers.

He wrote on his website: "This summer, my recommended reading list has a good dose of books with science and math at their core. But there’s no science or math to my selection process.

"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."

Here are the five books he has recommended we read on planes, at the beach and in our gardens on our summer holidays.

1. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson 

 Luckily for most, the first book on the list isn't lines and lines of code or an in-depth look at difficult maths problems - it's an interesting-looking science-fiction novel.

What Bill Gates says: "I hadn’t read any science fiction for a decade when a friend recommended this novel. I’m glad she did. The plot gets going in the first sentence, when the moon blows up. People figure out that in two years a cataclysmic meteor shower will wipe out all life on Earth, so the world unites on a plan to keep humanity going by launching as many spacecraft as possible into orbit.

"You might lose patience with all the information you’ll get about space flight—Stephenson, who lives in Seattle, has clearly done his research—but I loved the technical details. Seveneves inspired me to rekindle my sci-fi habit."


2. How Not To Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg

This is a mathematics book, but it's accessible maths aimed at things we face in our everyday lives. Passages from the book talk about the perfect time to arrive at an airport and why tall people have shorter children, among other fascinating explanations for queries most of us have pondered.

As shown in Bryony Gordon's column in 2014, it certainly gives a lot of talking points, and even if it doesn't turn you into a maths whizz it will at least give you some interesting things to talk about at dinner parties.

What Bill Gates says: "Ellenberg, a mathematician and writer, explains how math plays into our daily lives without our even knowing it. Each chapter starts with a subject that seems fairly straightforward—electoral politics, say, or the Massachusetts lottery—and then uses it as a jumping-off point to talk about the math involved.

"In some places the math gets quite complicated, but he always wraps things up by making sure you’re still with him. The book’s larger point is that, as Ellenberg writes, “to do mathematics is to be, at once, touched by fire and bound by reason”—and that there are ways in which we’re all doing math, all the time."


3. The Vital Question by Nick Lane

Well, The Telegraph's book critics certainly think this is one you should pick up - they gave it four stars.

After you've read a mathematics book for novices, Bill Gates thinks you should read an illuminating science book.

What The Telegraph says:  "One of the pleasures of good science writing is that it can awaken, or feed, this kind of curiosity and engagement in the reader, expanding his or her horizons in ways not previously imagined. And, for those willing to make the effort with a sometimes demanding but always clear text, Nick Lane's new book succeeds brilliantly.

"Prefaced by an overview, it consists of four parts: an exploration of the nature of life and living; a deep dive into life's origin and the emergence of cells; an account of how complex, or eukaryotic, cells arose and why sex and death are inevitable; and a final part that entertains some predictions as to life's future possibilities."

What Bill Gates says: "Nick is one of those original thinkers who makes you say: More people should know about this guy’s work. He is trying to right a scientific wrong by getting people to fully appreciate the role that energy plays 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. It’s not just theoretical; mitochondria (the power plants in our cells) could play a role in fighting cancer and malnutrition. 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."


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

So now you've exercised your imagination with some science-fiction and become piqued by maths and science, Bill Gates wants you to know the secrets of an economist and an entrepreneur.

Reading a book Bill Gates recommends about business is probably a good idea.

What Bill Gates says: "I have a soft spot for Japan that dates back three decades or so, when I first traveled there for Microsoft. Today, of course, Japan is intensely interesting to anyone who follows global economics. Why were its companies—the juggernauts of the 1980s—eclipsed by competitors in South Korea and China?

"And can they come back? Those questions are at the heart of this series of dialogues between Ryoichi, an economist who died in 2013, and his son Hiroshi, founder of the Internet company Rakuten. Although I don’t agree with everything in Hiroshi’s program, I think he has a number of good ideas. The Power to Compete is a smart look at the future of a fascinating country."


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

Want to learn about the entire history of the human race in just 400 pages? Of course you do. Read our full review of it here.

What The Telegraph says: "So how good a historian is Yuval Noah Harari? His scope is impressive: for him, history, as in the study of Homo sapiens, begins around 70,000 years ago, when our species of the genus Homo overcame the other species, most significantly the Neanderthal, to begin its ascent to world domination. That was when we developed speech, which enabled us to make bigger social groups than our ancestors had managed, and to organise them better. And it’s the point at which we use history to explain our past, rather than biology.

"Throughout his account, Harari is able to be as refreshingly clear in his discussions of biology, of evolutionary anthropology and of economics as he is of historical trends. His necessarily speculative glimpse of how religion began is effective and convincing. Stick with him, and you learn a lot."

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