Executive Book Club

Bill Gates says it's 'pretty fundamental' for the people he hires to read these 2 books

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
NICHOLAS KAMM | AFP | Getty Images

Bill Gates is passionate about reading and recommending books he finds particularly thought-provoking.

During an Oct. 2 speech at his alma mater Lakeside School, the Seattle high school where he met Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Gates pointed to two books he thinks are "pretty fundamental" to read for the people he hires to work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Microsoft: "Factfulness by Hans Rosling and Steven Pinker's "Better Angels of Our Nature."

Gates fans won't be surprised that "Factfulness" is about "how life is getting better, and where the world still needs to improve," according a Gates blog post from 2018, topics that are central to the work his foundation does — helping to improve the health and welfare of people in developing countries.

It's one of Gates' favorite books, and in 2018, he gave away a downloadable copy to anyone who graduated from college. "Although I think everyone should read it, it has especially useful insights for anyone who's making the leap out of college and into the next phase of life," Gates wrote on his blog, Gates Notes. 

Similarly, "The Better Angels of Our Nature" "offers a really fresh perspective on how to achieve positive outcomes in the world," Gates wrote in another blog post. The 700-page book is about violence, which Gates says is important to understand in order to "build more peaceful societies."

"Steven Pinker shows us ways we can make those positive trajectories a little more likely," Gates wrote. "That's a contribution, not just to historical scholarship, but to the world."

But doing the reading is just one step; people should also be able to engage in questions like, "What was your response to that?" Gates said at Lakeside. He likes when people are eager to learn.

Gates said that the foundation in particular hires people who have diverse skill sets but share a curiosity about the world. "The only thing in common with these people is a fascination with the progress taking place, and the progress that hasn't and that they're a student of those things," he said.

Gates also said people should be eager to learn and "constantly refresh your knowledge." He recommends listening to podcasts or watching lectures online.

But overall, the skill and "key metric" that Gates says people need to develop in order to succeed is "self-confidence as a learner and willingness to keep learning."

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