Bill Gates recommends five books every summer.
This year, he added eight additional books to his reading list to distract or enlighten people during the pandemic.
Gates’s favorite titles include a nonfiction book about the 1918 influenza pandemic and a few comic books.
When Bill Gates isn’t working with pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs and vaccines for the coronavirus, he’s an avid reader.
“Most of my conversations and meetings these days are about COVID-19 and how we can stem the tide,” the billionaire wrote on his blog, Gates Notes. “But I’m also often asked about what I am reading and watching — either because people want to learn more about pandemics, or because they are looking for a distraction.”
Gates’s summer reading list for 2020 offers both distractions and important lessons for coping with crisis.
In addition to his typical five summer book recommendations, the Microsoft founder recommended eight additional titles this year — including a few comic books.
“The Choice,” by Dr. Edith Eva Edgar
Dr. Eger was sent to Auschwitz with her family at age 16. Her book details her battle with survivor’s guilt — and learning to forgive herself — after her parents were killed during the war.
Bill Gates defines the book as “partly a memoir and partly a guide to processing trauma.”
“I think many people will find comfort right now from her suggestions on how to handle difficult situations,” he wrote.
“Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell
When Gates started reading “Cloud Atlas” last year, he wrote that it was “amazingly clever but a bit hard to follow.” Now that he’s done, he describes it as “the kind of novel you’ll think and talk about for a long time after you finish it.”
The book begins in New Zealand’s Chatham Isles in 1850, flashes forward to Belgium in 1931, then sharply transitions to the West Coast in the 1970s — all before jumping back to the place where it started. Gates’s favorite story in the book is about a young American doctor in the South Pacific in the mid-1800s.
The novel was first published in 2004, then adapted into a movie starring Tom Hanks in 2012.
“The Ride of a Lifetime” by Robert Iger
Igor’s memoir gives an inside look at his experience as CEO of The Walt Disney Company from 2005 to 2020.
He shares his four leadership principles — optimism, courage, decisiveness, and fairness — and his strategy for turning Disney into the largest media company in the world. He also offers anecdotes about his friendship with Steve Jobs and his Star Wars obsession.
According to Gates, it’s “one of the best business books I’ve read in several years.”
“The Great Influenza” by John M. Barry
The current pandemic bears many striking similarities to the 1918 flu — the subject of John Barry’s 2004 nonfiction book.
“If you’re looking for a historical comparison, the 1918 influenza pandemic is as close as you’re going to get,” Gates wrote on his blog. “‘The Great Influenza’ is a good reminder that we’re still dealing with many of the same challenges.”
Barry’s book also offers lessons on how to respond to viral outbreaks.
“Those in authority must retain the public’s trust,” he wrote. “The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one.”
“Good Economies for Hard Times” by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo
Gates calls Banerjee and Duflo “two of the smartest economists working today.” They won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2019.
Their book offers solutions to critical economic questions, like whether international trade works for everyone or immigrants from poorer countries take jobs away from low-income native workers.
According to Gates, the authors are “very good at making economics accessible to the average person.”
“The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness” by Andy Puddicombe
Puddicombe is an ordained Buddhist monk who went on to cofound Headspace, a popular meditation app featuring guided practices, animations, articles, and videos.
Gates refers to Puddicombe as “the person who turned me from skeptic to believer.” He even asked Puddicombe to spend a day and a half walking his family through meditation exercises.
“I’m not sure how much meditation would have helped me concentrate in my early Microsoft days,” Gates wrote. “But now that I’m married, have three children, and have a broader set of professional and personal interests, it’s a great tool for improving my focus.”
The billionaire now meditates up to three times a week.
“Moonwalking with Einstein” by Joshua Foer
Foer won the US Memory Championship, a tournament that asks participants to memorize numbers, names, faces, and more. His book details his experience working with “mental athletes,” who helped train his mind to quickly recall facts.
“If you’re looking to work on a new skill, you could do worse than learning to memorize things,” Gates wrote on his blog.
“The Martian” by Andy Weir
The 2011 science fiction novel was turned into a film in 2015. Gates said there’s a connection between the movie and the current pandemic.
“Matt Damon — playing a botanist who’s been stranded on Mars — sets aside his fear and says, ‘I’m going to science the sh-t out of this,'” Gates wrote. “We’re doing the same thing with the novel coronavirus.”
“A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles
“A Gentleman in Moscow” is fiction, but it draws much of its inspiration from historical events. The book tells the story of a Russian count who is sentenced to house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel following the Bolshevik Revolution.
The book came out in 2016, but Gates got around to reading it last year, after his brother-in-law sent him a copy. Gates said he and his wife, Melinda, pored over the title at the same time.
He added that he teared up at one of the plot lines while he was a few chapters ahead of Melinda, tipping her off that something bad was about to happen.
The Rosie Trilogy by Graeme Simsion
Gates is longtime fan of Simsion’s work. The trilogy follows the life of Don Tillman, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Gates sent the first book, “The Rosie Project,” to about 50 friends. The second book, “The Rosie Effect,” taught the billionaire a lesson about relationships. Gates recommended the third and final installment, “The Rosie Result,” last year.
“In the back of the mind, you’re thinking about the relationships you have,” Gates said in a conversation with Simsion, which he documented on Gates Notes. “You get to laugh, but you also get to think, ‘Hey, some people are good at this stuff naturally. And some people are good at this stuff because they put the energy in.'”
“The Best We Could” by Thi Bui
Gates said he usually doesn’t read comics or graphic novels, but he’s a fan of BII’s illustrated memoir, which tells of her family’s escape from war-torn Vietnam in the 1970s.
“It’s a deeply personal book that explores what it means to be a parent and a refugee,” Gates wrote. The visuals, he added, are “striking.”
“Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh
“You will rip through it in three hours, tops,” Gates wrote of the book. “But you’ll wish it went on longer, because it’s funny and smart as hell. I must have read Melinda a dozen hilarious passages out loud.”
The novel is part comic, part blog-style essays that draw from author’s life in rural Idaho and struggles as an adult. Throughout the book, Brosh is depicted as a stick figure in a pink dress.
“It takes a few hours trying to get it right,” she told Mother Jones of her sketches. “I don’t have any reference material for this creature that I’ve made to represent myself, aside from what’s in my head.”
“What If?” by Randall Munroe
Monroe, a former NASA engineer, uses stick figure drawings to discuss major topics like science, technology, and language. His book “What If?” answers absurd questions — like how long humanity would last in a robot apocalypse — and slightly realistic ones, like how fast you could reasonably drive over a speed bump and still live.
Gates also recommended Monroe’s webcomic-turned-book, “XKCD: Volume 0.” In the future, he wrote, he plans to tackle the author’s latest book, “How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems.”
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