Executive Book Club

Bill Gates: These 3 great books 'came to mind right away' as my favorites of 2023—plus 2 recommendations ‘just for fun’

Bill Gates
Source: Gates Notes

Bill Gates is once again marking the holiday season with a list of some of his favorite books he read in the past year. And this time, he left a couple extra gifts at the bottom of the stocking.

Gates is a prodigious reader who reads roughly 50 books each year and regularly releases seasonal lists recommending his favorites. His latest holiday list also includes a series of online economics lectures he calls "fantastic" and a holiday-themed Spotify playlist "just for fun."

"I love holiday music and have put together a list of some favorites — classics and modern tunes, from the U.S. and around the world," Gates wrote in a blog post on Monday.

The Microsoft co-founder's recommendations kick off with three non-fiction books that he says "came to mind right away" when he started writing the list. Here they are, along with his holiday mix and the online courses from a lecturer Gates describes as "one of my all-time favorite professors."

'The Song of the Cell' by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Mukherjee, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Columbia University oncologist, writes here about what Gates calls "the building blocks of life" — the cells that make up all living organisms.

In one sense, "The Song of the Cell" is a medical history, covering the discovery of cells in the 1600s and how people's understanding of them has evolved over time. The book, published last year, is also a look ahead to the future medical breakthroughs that cellular manipulation could unlock.

The book will help you better understand your own body, particularly what it means when you get sick, Gates wrote.

"[Mukherjee] starts by explaining how life evolved from single-celled organisms, and then he shows how every human illness or consequence of aging comes down to something going wrong with the body's cells," wrote Gates.

'Not the End of the World' by Hannah Ritchie

How about a little climate optimism to get you into the holiday spirit? "Everyone who wants to have an informed conversation about climate change should read this book," Gates wrote.

"Not the End of the World," slated to publish in January, is an upcoming look at how the world can actually win the battle against climate change from University of Oxford data scientist Hannah Ritchie.

The author "used to believe — as many environmental activists do — that she was 'living through humanity's most tragic period,'" Gates wrote. But by sticking to the data, Ritchie realized that, as bad as things are, humans are actually making progress in the fight to combat climate change.

"In 'Not the End of the World,' she uses data to tell a counterintuitive story that contradicts the doomsday scenarios on climate and other environmental topics without glossing over the challenges," Gates wrote.

'Invention and Innovation' by Vaclav Smil

Smil, a professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Manitoba, is one of Gates' favorite authors. Gates said he's read every single one of Smil's 44 books, and that "nobody is better than Smil at explaining the past."

In "Invention and Innovation," which published in February, Smil looks at examples of human innovation throughout history. He writes about inventions that underwhelmed, or even proved disastrous. He also explains what's happening with innovations that humans have long been promised, but have yet to materialize — like producing energy through nuclear fusion.

Gates noted that Smil is less optimistic than he is about the current era of innovation, with the author identifying "unmistakable signs of technical stagnation and slowing advances." Still, Gates recommended the book to anyone interested in understanding "how human ingenuity brought us to this moment in time."

Online economics lectures by Timothy Taylor

Gates has long been a fan of Taylor, a Stanford-educated economist who serves as the managing editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, based at Macalester College. Now, he's recommending three series of Taylor's online lectures available to stream on subscription service Wondrium.

"You can't go wrong with any of Taylor's lectures," Gates wrote. The lectures, which total 96 videos of roughly 30 minutes each, tackle different topics within the broad scope of economics.

As Gates described: "'The New Global Economy' teaches you about the basic economic history of different regions and how markets work. 'Economics' is best suited for people who want to understand the principles of economics in a deep way. 'Unexpected Economics' probably has the broadest audience, because Taylor applies those principles to things in everyday life, including gift-giving, traffic, natural disasters, sports, and more."

Gates' holiday Spotify playlist

Gates's 54-song playlist is available on his Spotify profile "just for fun," he wrote.

The list features a wide range of tunes that help Gates "get into the holiday spirit" — from traditional classics like "Joy to the World" or Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song" to more modern interpretations like Wham's "Last Christmas" or Sia's "12 Nights."

"Whether you listen in an ugly sweater, while wrapping presents, or around the table with family and friends, I hope these songs bring as much joy to your holidays as they do to mine," Gates wrote.

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