It’s always interesting to keep track of what Bill Gates is reading, and for some reason I envisioned him taking advantage of an e-reader or tablet — or at least something digital — to read and process all that material. Nope. It turns out he carries a giant tote bag of old-fashioned books when he’s on the road, and scribbles notes for himself inside the covers with a pen.

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Charlie Rose digs through Gates’ giant book bag

That was the biggest surprise for me in a wide-ranging profile by Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes this evening, called Bill Gates 2.0. The part with the book bag was not exactly a scene from “The Road Ahead” — but on the bright side it suggests that there’s still plenty of room for Microsoft to make advances in digital reading, with or without the Nook.

The segment brought the world up to speed on Gates’ life, including efforts to eradicate disease and transform global health. None of it was groundbreaking news for people who follow Gates closely, but there were some tidbits and insights along the way.

I was especially struck by how many of the projects cited in the piece were tied into Intellectual Ventures, the patent holding company and invention lab led by former Microsoft technology chief Nathan Myhrvold. They included the TerraPower “traveling wave” nuclear reactor and the “cold chain” vaccine delivery system.

Of course, Gates’ involvement with Intellectual Ventures is no secret, but the number of examples was notable, in addition to the fact that the piece didn’t delve into any of the controversy surrounding Intellectual Ventures.

The parts with Melinda Gates were fun, such as this exchange …

Melinda Gates: Well, we both have curiosity for lots of things. Bill, at this stage in our life, also gets more time to read than I do, quite honestly, with three kids in the house. … But the great thing is Bill will go read an entire book about fertilizer. And I can tell you even without three kids in the house, I’m not going to read a book about fertilizer. … But he loves to teach. And so as long as I have time, we’ll spend time talking about that.

Charlie Rose: So what is it about a book about fertilizer? I mean seriously?

Bill Gates: Well, fertilizers are very interesting.

Bill Gates: We couldn’t feed — (a few) billion people would have to die if we hadn’t come up with fertilizer.

Charlie Rose: How do you find a balance in all this? Father, chairman of a major company, a foundation, and then all these other ventures? How does the balance come to you?

Bill Gates: I don’t mow the lawn.

Charlie Rose: You found somebody to do that?

Bill Gates: Absolutely.

Gates blogs about the 60 Minutes segment here, noting that he and Rose spent two days together and did five interviews.

“That’s a lot of time together, but I was happy to do it, because it was a great opportunity to share my optimism about the chance we have to save and improve lives in the poorest countries,” he writes. “I wanted the audience to see that my optimism is based on science, hard data, and the phenomenal dedication of people I have met who commit their lives to helping the poorest.”

A transcript of the segment is here. Also see these extra segments on Gates and Jobs, and Gates’ roots at Lakeside School.

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