We should all know by now that Bill Gates is an avid reader with taste that tends to lean toward nonfiction books about advances in research and solving some of the world’s biggest problems.
Gates’ Best Books of 2015 list is here, and in true form, Gates’ top reads from the year include six books and one honorable mention that delve into some very difficult yet fascinating topics and people.
“I just looked over the list of books I read this year, and I noticed a pattern. A lot of them touch on a theme that I would call ‘how things work,’ ” Gates writes in his post explaining his picks.
“Some explain something about the physical world, like how steel and glass are used, or what it takes to get rid of deadly diseases,” he continues. “Others offer deep insights into human beings: our strengths and flaws, our capacity for lifelong growth, or the things we value. I didn’t set out to explore these themes intentionally, though in retrospect it make a lot of sense since the main reason I read is to learn.”
In Gates’ style, not every book was released in 2015, but he has picked it for the year due to its relevancy, or simply because he just liked it.
Here’s the list and a brief recap, edited for length, of Gates’ original reviews:
The Road to Character by David Brooks: “The insightful New York Times columnist examines the contrasting values that motivate all of us. He argues that American society does a good job of cultivating the ‘résumé virtues’ (the traits that lead to external success) but not our ‘eulogy virtues’ (the traits that lead to internal peace of mind). Brooks profiles various historical figures who were paragons of character…It is a thought-provoking look at what it means to live life well.”
Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe: “The brain behind XKCD explains various subjects — from how smartphones work to what the U.S. Constitution says — using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language and blueprint-style diagrams. It is a brilliant concept, because if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t really understand it. Munroe, who worked on robotics at NASA, is an ideal person to take it on.”
Being Nixon: A Man Divided by Evan Thomas: “Former U.S. president Richard Nixon is often portrayed as little more than a crook and a war monger. So it was refreshing to see a more balanced account in Being Nixon, by author and journalist Evan Thomas. I wouldn’t call it a sympathetic portrait — in many ways, Nixon was a deeply unsympathetic person — but it is an empathetic one.”
Sustainable Materials With Both Eyes Open by Julian M. Allwood, Jonathan M. Cullen, et al.: “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. They look closely at the materials that humans use most, with particular emphasis on steel and aluminum, and show how we could cut emissions by up to 50 percent without asking people to make big sacrifices. (You can download it free on the authors’ site.)”
Eradication: Ridding the World of Diseases Forever? by Nancy Leys Stepan: “Stepan’s history of eradication efforts gives you a good sense of how involved the work can get, how many different kinds of approaches have been tried without success, and how much we’ve learned from our failures.”
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck: “Through clever research studies and engaging writing, Dweck illuminates how our beliefs about our capabilities exert tremendous influence on how we learn and which paths we take in life. The value of this book extends way beyond the world of education. It’s just as relevant for businesspeople who want to cultivate talent and for parents who want to raise their kids to thrive on challenge.”
Honorable mention: The Vital Question by Nick Lane (no link yet): “I read one book this year that definitely deserves a spot on this list, but I haven’t had time to give it the full write-up it deserves. The Vital Question by Nick Lane is an amazing inquiry into the origins of life. I loved it so much that I immediately bought all of Lane’s other books.”
Watch Gates’ video on his favorite books of 2015 below:
What were some of your favorite books, especially about scientific advances, education, the environment, space exploration? GeekWire’s Alan Boyle shared his geeky picks which would also make some great gifts. Please leave some more in the comments — with books the more, the merrier.