Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates released his annual summer book list on Monday. The underlying theme is "upheaval," he writes on his blog, Gates Notes, "whether it's the Soviet Union right after the Bolshevik revolution, the United States during times of war, or a global reevaluation of our economic system."
While none of the five books may be "what most people think of as a light read," he says, they're all thought-provoking and have uplifting aspects.
"If you're looking for something that's more of a typical summer book," he adds, "I recommend Graeme Simsion's 'The Rosie Result,'" which is the final novel in the Rosie trilogy that Gates has recommended before.
Here is Gates' full summer reading list:
Amor Towles's novel is "a fun, clever, and surprisingly upbeat look at Russian history through the eyes of one man," says Gates. It's technically historical fiction, "but you'd be just as accurate calling it a thriller or a love story." He even "got teary-eyed" at one point.
"Even if you don't enjoy reading about Russia as much as I do (I've read everything Dostoyevsky wrote)," Gates says, this book is "an amazing story that anyone can enjoy."
Jared Diamond, author of the international bestseller "Guns, Germs, and Steel," looks at how societies react during times of crisis in his new book, "Upheaval."
"He uses a series of fascinating case studies to show how nations managed existential challenges like civil war, foreign threats, or general malaise," writes Gates, noting, "It sounds a bit depressing, but I finished the book even more optimistic about our ability to solve problems than I started."
"If you get grossed out by blood, this one probably isn't for you," says Gates, since Rose George's book is a deep dive into the topic, from the ancient practice of bloodletting to modern breakthroughs. "But if you're like me and find it fascinating, you'll enjoy this book by a British journalist with an especially personal connection to the subject."
"Nine Pints," which refers to the average human blood volume, "may not sound like a typical light summer book," he says. "But George is a great reporter and writer who makes it easy to follow along. And I think everyone wants to know at least a little more about this topic."
In his 2018 book, author Michael Beschloss looks at how presidents have handled nine major conflicts the U.S. has been involved in, from the War of 1812 to the Vietnam War.
"The book's broad scope lets you draw important cross-cutting lessons about presidential leadership," says Gates. And it's full of "'what if' moments," he adds. "It is hard to read about today's conflicts without thinking about how they might connect to the past and what impact they might have on the future."
In "The Future of Capitalism," Oxford economist Paul Collier "wrestles with a tough problem," writes Gates. "If you measure by things like GDP growth and lifespan, life is better for more people around the world than it has ever been. And yet many people are questioning the capitalist system that produced those gains. There's an understandable sense that the system is in crisis."
Collier outlines three reasons why capitalism is working for some but leaving others behind. He also proposes solutions.
"Although I don't agree with him about everything ... his background as a development economist gives him a smart perspective on where capitalism is headed," says Gates.
Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!