Science and mathematics are the key themes in the book Bill Gates is recommending this year – although the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft says “there’s no science of math” to his process for selecting his favourite books.
Gates puts out a list of book recommendations at the start of the North American summer each year and, as with previous years, this year’s list covers a diverse range of topics: from science fiction to a tome on “how Japan can get its economic mojo back”.
Gates’ endorsements usually carry weight: the books are known to climb up the bestseller charts as soon as Gates writes about them on his personal blog, which also features his now-traditional animated reading video.
“The following five books are simply ones that I loved, made me think in new ways, and kept me up reading long past when I should have gone to sleep,” Gates says.
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Here’s Gates’ annual summer reading list.
1. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
While Gates says he hadn’t picked up a science fiction book for a decade, he started reading Stephenson’s book after a friend recommended it.
According to Gates, he was hooked from the first sentence, which describes the moon blowing up. The plot of the novel centres on a plan to save the world from a cataclysmic meteor shower using space orbit and while Gates says some readers may get lost in all the details of space flight, he “loved the technical details”.
2. How Not to be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg
Ellenberg’s book is an explanation of the central role mathematics plays in our daily lives and Gates has praised the author’s ability to describe complex maths in a way that all readers can understand.
“Each chapter starts with a subject that seems fairly straightforward – electoral politics, say, or the Massachusetts lottery – and then uses it as a jumping-off point to talk about the math involved,” Gates says.
3. The Vital Question by Nick Lane
Nick Lane’s The Vital Question continues the science focus of Gates’ reading list.
The premise of the book is to improve awareness of the role energy plays in all living things and Gates describes Lane as “one of those original thinkers who makes you say, ‘More people should know about this guy’s work’”.
“Even if the details of Nick’s work turn out to be wrong, I suspect his focus on energy will be seen as an important contribution to our understanding of where we come from,” Gates says.
4. The Power to Compete by Ryoichi Mikitani and Hiroshi Mikitani
Described by Gates as a “smart look at the future of a fascinating country”, The Power to Compete is based on a series of dialogues between the late Ryoichi Mikitani, an economist, and his son, Hiroshi, who is the founder of internet giant Rakuten.
“I have a soft spot for Japan that dates back three decades or so, when I first traveled there for Microsoft,” Gates says.
“Today, of course, Japan is intensely interesting to anyone who follows global economics.”
5. Saipiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Noah Yuval Harari
Gates says Harari’s 400-page history of the human race “sparked lots of great conversations” at the dinner table between him and his wife Melinda, who also read the book.
“Although I found things to disagree with … I would recommend Sapiens to anyone who’s interested in the history and future of our species,” he says.