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Bill Gates credits this book with giving him a better understanding of American poverty

Bill Gates
Tobias Schwarz | Getty Images
Bill Gates

No one can accuse Bill Gates of being stingy with his wealth.

He has vowed to give away more than half of his $90 billion fortune and is constantly working to learn more about the issues of poverty and global health. He also reads — a lot. The Microsoft co-founder reads every night and has reviewed hundreds of books on his blog. One book that opened his eyes to the realities that poor Americans face is "Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City," by Matthew Desmond.

Desmond, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, MacArthur Foundation "Genius" and a Gates Foundation grantee, spent 18 months living in two high-poverty neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Gates says that the resulting book, which focuses on how housing insecurity impacts low-income communities, taught him about what it is like to be poor in America.

"Melinda and I have been working for some time to learn more about how Americans move up the economic ladder (what experts call mobility from poverty)," writes Gates. "'Evicted' helped me understand one piece of that very complex question, and it made me want to learn more about the systemic problems that make housing unaffordable, as well as the various government programs designed to help."

One of Gates' key takeaways from Desmond's book is the vulnerability associated with living in extreme poverty.

"When you're paying so much to keep a roof over your head, there's no room for bad luck. A single bad incident can send you reeling," he writes.

"For me, though, 'Evicted''s biggest contribution isn't the focus on housing. It's the dramatic illustration of the ways in which issues of poverty are intertwined," says Gates. "When someone has to search for a new place to live, they miss work, which cuts back on their pay and makes them more likely to get fired. And all this instability has a terrible impact on children."

The interconnection between homelessness and poverty is something that Desmond hopes people will better understand. "I used to think eviction and homelessness were the result of poverty," says the author. "But I came to recognize that eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty in America."

Gates admits that he will never truly understand the difficulties of those who face housing insecurity, but he thanks Desmond's work for giving him a better understanding.

"Although the specifics of their lives are unlike anything I have experienced, Desmond makes it easy to empathize," he says. "This book gave me a better sense of what it is like to be very poor in this country than anything else I have read."

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