Bill Gates spends a lot of time reading. In fact, the billionaire consumes about 50 books per year. He also posts an in-depth review for several of them on his blog, GatesNotes. But every December for the past couple of years, Gates shares a year-end list of his favorites.
"December is a great time to take stock of everything you've done over the last twelve months — including all of the books you've read," the billionaire wrote Tuesday on his blog, sharing a list of his favorite reads in 2019. "They're all solid choices to help wrap up your 2019 or start 2020 on a good note."
Below is a complete list of books that the Microsoft co-founder says he loved reading this decade, according to his blog. These are the books that changed his worldview, and they include an eclectic mix of topics — from genomics to great leadership, memoirs to graphic novels, education to energy and so much more.
(You'll also notice a handful from scientist and policy analyst Vaclav Smil, whose new books Gates says he waits for "the way some people wait for the next Star Wars movie.")
Note: This compilation only includes lists from 2012 to 2019, since Gates did not post his year-end favorites for 2010 and 2011.
From 5 Books to Enjoy This Winter (2019):
- "An American Marriage," by Tayari Jones
From Gates' review: "Jones is such a good writer that you can't help but empathize with Roy and Celestial. Both have been put into a super-difficult position. I obviously haven't experienced what they go through, but the characters — and their reactions to the situation — ring true to me."
- "These Truths," by Jill Lepore
From Gates' review: "While many good history books provide perspectives beyond those of the traditional "great men" of history, Lepore's book makes diverse points of view central to the narrative. She shows you all the ironies and contradictions in American history."
- "Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities," by Vaclav Smil
From Gates' review: "Even if you don't like math, don't let [the first chapter] scare you off, because it makes a really important point: It destroys the idea that you can take an early growth curve for a particular development — the uptake of the smartphone, for example—and use it as the basis for predicting the future."
- "Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life," by Diane Tavenner
From Gates' review: "Diane shares the story of how she designed a new kind of charter school with a simple but very ambitious goal: 'We wanted to teach kids not just what they needed to get into college, but what they needed to live a good life.'"
- "Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dream," by Matthew Walker
From Gates' review: "I read a couple of great books this year about human behavior, and this was one of the most interesting and profound. Everyone knows that a good night's sleep is important — but what exactly counts as a good night's sleep? And how do you make one happen? Walker has persuaded me to change my bedtime habits to up my chances."
From 5 Books I Loved in 2018:
- "Educated: A Memoir," by Tara Westover
From Gates' review: "Tara's process of self-discovery is beautifully captured in Educated. It's the kind of book that I think everyone will enjoy, no matter what genre you usually pick up."
- "Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War," by Paul Scharre
From Gates' review: "Scharre writes clearly about a huge range of topics: Computer science, military strategy, history, philosophy, psychology, and ethics. He gives you the right grounding to start participating in the debate over where our country should draw the line on these powerful technologies."
- "Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup," by John Carreyrou
From Gates' review: "'Bad Blood' tackles some serious ethical questions, but it is ultimately a thriller with a tragic ending. It's a fun read full of bizarre details that will make you gasp out loud."
- "21 Lessons for the 21st Century," by Yuval Noah Harari
From Gates' review: "Harari's big idea boils down to this: Meditate."
- "The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness," by Andy Puddicombe
From Gates' review: "I like what I'm getting from my 10 minutes [of meditation] every few days. I'm grateful to Andy for helping me on this journey."
- "The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir," by Thi Bui
From Gates' review: "This gorgeous graphic novel is a deeply personal memoir that explores what it means to be a parent and a refugee."
- "Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City," by Matthew Desmond
From Gates' review: "'Evicted' is well worth reading for anyone who wants to better understand poverty in America. It is beautifully written, thought-provoking, and unforgettable."
- "Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens," by Eddie Izzard
From Gates' review: "Eddie has the growth mindset in spades. Being lousy at something doesn't stop him from doing it. In fact, it often has the opposite effect, driving him to work at it until he is no longer terrified of it."
- "The Sympathizer: A Novel," by Viet Thanh Nguyen
From Gates' review: "Most of the books I've read and movies I've seen about the Vietnam War focused on the American perspective. Nguyen's award-winning novel offers much-needed insight into what it was like to be Vietnamese and caught between both sides."
- "Energy and Civilization: A History," by Vaclav Smil
From Gates' review: "Smil makes a clear case that energy consumption and economic growth are inextricably linked. In his words, 'to become rich requires a substantial increase in energy use.' I fully agree with him."
- "String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis," by David Foster Wallace
From Gates' review: "As much as I loved the book for its insights on the game, I loved it just as much for the writing itself. I now understand why people talk about David Foster Wallace with the same kind of awe that tennis fans use to talk about a Roger Federer or Serena Williams."
- "Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike," Phil Knight
From Gates' review: "This memoir, by the co-founder of Nike, is a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like: Messy, precarious, and riddled with mistakes."
- "The Gene: An Intimate History," by Siddhartha Mukherjee
From Gates' review: "My favorite part of the book was the final section, 'Post-Genome: The Genetics of Fate and Future.' It does a great job bringing into sharp focus the difficult ethical questions that will become increasingly intense."
- "The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age," by Archie Brown
From Gates' review: "Brown does a wonderful job of showing how the same qualities that seem so appealing in strong leaders can lead, in the mildest cases, to bad decisions — and, in the most extreme cases, to death and suffering on a massive scale."
- Honorable mention: "The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future," by Gretchen Bakke
From Gates' review: "Even if you have never given a moment's thought to how electricity reaches your outlets, I think this book would convince you that the electrical grid is one of the greatest engineering wonders of the modern world."
- "The Road to Character," by David Brooks
From Gates' review: "What does a virtuous life look like? David Brooks suggests an intriguing idea."
- "Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words," by Randall Munroe
From Gates' review: "'Thing Explainer' is filled with cool basic knowledge about how the world works. If one of Munroe's drawings inspires you to go learn more about a subject — including a few extra terms — then he will have done his job. He has written a wonderful guide for curious minds."
- "Being Nixon: A Man Divided," by Evan Thomas
From Gates' review: "'Being Nixon' is a balanced book that doesn't try to convince you that Nixon was all good or all bad. It's a worthwhile read for anyone who is interested in this brilliant, conflicted and complicated man."
- "Sustainable Materials With Both Eyes Open (Without the Hot Air)," by Julian M. Allwood and Jonathan M. Cullen
From Gates' review: "How much can we reduce carbon emissions that come from making and using stuff? Quite a bit, according to the University of Cambridge team behind this book."
- "Eradication: Ridding the World of Diseases Forever?," by Nancy Leys Stepan
From Gates' review: While it's written in "a very academic style," it's "worth the effort because you come away from it with a clearer sense of what the world has learned about getting rid of diseases and how we can use that to guide the effort to save even more lives."
- "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," by Carol S. Dweck
From Gates' review: "Dweck and her research have helped my foundation colleagues and me understand more about the attitudes and habits that allow some students to persevere in school despite big challenges."
- Honorable mention: "The Vital Question," by Nick Lane
From Gates' review: "Nick reminds me of writers like Jared Diamond, people who develop a grand theory that explains a lot about the world. He is one of those original thinkers who makes you say: More people should know about this guy's work."
- "Business Adventures: 12 Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street," by John Brooks
From Gates' review: "Today, more than two decades after Warren lent it to me — and more than four decades after it was first published — 'Business Adventures' remains the best business book I've ever read. John Brooks is still my favorite business writer."
- "Capital in the 21st Century," by Thomas Piketty
From Gates' review: "I hope [Piketty's work] will draw more smart people into the study of wealth and income inequality — because the more we understand about the causes and cures, the better."
- "How Asia Works," by Joe Studwell
From Gates' review: "It's a good read for anyone who wants to understand what actually determines whether a developing economy will succeed. Studwell's formula is refreshingly clear — even if it's very difficult to execute."
- "The Rosie Effect," by Graeme Simsion
From Gates' review: "It's an extraordinarily clever, funny and moving book about being comfortable with who you are and what you're good at. I'm sending copies to several friends and hope to re-read it later this year. This is one of the most profound novels I've read in a long time."
- "Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization," by Vaclav Smil
From Gates' review: "Not only did I learn some mind-blowing facts, but I also gained a new appreciation for all the materials that make modern life possible."
- "The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger," by Marc Levinson
From Gates' review: "Shipping containers are way more interesting than you might think."
- "The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention," by William Rosen
From Gates' review: "A bit like 'The Box,' except it's about steam engines. Rosen weaves together the clever characters, incremental innovations, and historical context behind this invention.
- "Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature," by Vaclav Smil
From Gates' review: "If you want to learn about agriculture or the environment and you have the patience to stick with it, this is a great text."
- "The World Until Yesterday," by Jared Diamond
From Gates' review: "Diamond finds fascinating anecdotes about what life is like for hunter-gatherers and asks which ones might apply to our modern lifestyles. He doesn't make some grand pronouncement or romanticize tribal life."
- "Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do About It," by Morten Jerven
From Gates' review: "[Jerven] makes a strong case that a lot of GDP measurements we thought were accurate are far from it. But as I argue in my longer review, that doesn't mean we know nothing about what works in development."
- "Why Does College Cost So Much?," by Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman
From Gates' review: "This book looks at college costs in the context of the larger economy, and offers suggestions for policy to increase access."
- "The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth's Future," by Paul Sabin
From Gates' review: "This book gave me new perspective on why so many big challenges get bogged down in political battles rather than being focused on problem-solving."
From My Top Reads in 2012:
- "The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined," by Steven Pinker
From Gates' review: "The book is about violence, but paints a remarkable picture that shows the world has evolved over time to be a far less violent place than before. It offers a really fresh perspective on how to achieve positive outcomes in the world."
- "Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China," by Ezra Vogel
From Gates' review: "If you're going to read one book about modern China in the period after Mao, then this is the book you should read."
- "The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World," by Daniel Yergin
From Gates' review: "It covers a lot of ground and is filled with a ton of facts and data. But it's a fast read because Yergin relays information through stories that are very well told."
- "Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything," by Joshua Foer
From Gates' review: "Like most people, I'm fascinated by how the mind works, and memory is a big element of that. Part of the beauty of this book is that it makes clear how memory and understanding are not two different things. Building up the ability to reason and the ability to retain information go hand in hand."
- "Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity," by Katherine Boo
From Gates' review: "The book was written by Katherine Boo, an award-winning Western journalist who spent three years getting to know the people of Annawadi, a slum of about 3,000 people on the edge of a sewage-filled lake in India's largest city. Her research alone is a tremendous achievement."
- "One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?," by Gordon Conway
From Gates' review: "For people who want to learn about the connection between agriculture and world hunger, this book may be the best broad overview of how our modern food production system is tied to agricultural practices. It's also very readable."
- "A World-Class Education: Learning From International Models of Excellence and Innovation," by Vivien Stewart
From Gates' review: "This is an interesting view into five countries which are making remarkable educational progress and that offer lessons for us in the US."
- "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses Paperback," by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa
From Gates' review: "Before reading this book, I took it for granted that colleges were doing a very good job. But there is really no measurement or feedback system that tracks results, to help guide students and help institutions improve."
- "This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly," by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff
From Gates' review: N/A
- "The City that Became Safe: New York's Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control," by Franklin Zimring
From Gates' review: N/A
Tom Popomaronis is a leadership researcher, commerce expert, cross-industry innovation leader and VP of Innovation at Massive Alliance. His work has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, Inc. and The Washington Post. In 2014, Tom was named one of the "40 Under 40" by the Baltimore Business Journal.
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