In the recent Netflix documentary “Inside Bill’s Brain,” books are a constant for the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist. We get to see a lot of the book bag that is packed and refreshed for Gates, we get to see his home library and we get to see a lot of Gates reading.
On Tuesday, Gates shared more insight into what books captured his attention in 2019 and offered up five for his annual holiday list in case you want to wish for them yourself or fulfill a gift list for a voracious reader like Gates.
“Because I’m a data guy, I like to look at my reading list and see if any trends emerge,” Gates said in his Gates Notes blog post. “This year, I picked up a bit more fiction than usual. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I seemed to be drawn to stories that let me explore another world.”
Gates said he is currently trying to finish “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell before the end of the year, which he called “amazingly clever but a bit hard to follow.” He said next year’s list might just include another Wallace novel he’s been wanting to read for some time: “Infinite Jest.”
For now, take a look at five of the books Gates did get through, along with links to his reviews of the books and short blurbs provided by Gates Notes.
- “An American Marriage,” by Tayari Jones. My daughter Jenn recommended that I read this novel, which tells the story of a black couple in the South whose marriage gets torn apart by a horrible incident of injustice. Jones is such a good writer that she manages to make you empathize with both of her main characters, even after one makes a difficult decision. The subject matter is heavy but thought-provoking, and I got sucked into Roy and Celestial’s tragic love story.
- “These Truths,” by Jill Lepore. Lepore has pulled off the seemingly impossible in her latest book: covering the entire history of the United States in just 800 pages. She’s made a deliberate choice to make diverse points of view central to the narrative, and the result is the most honest and unflinching account of the American story I’ve ever read. Even if you’ve read a lot about U.S. history, I’m confident you will learn something new from These Truths.
- “Growth,” by Vaclav Smil. When I first heard that one of my favorite authors was working on a new book about growth, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. (Two years ago, I wrote that I wait for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next Star Wars movie. I stand by that statement.) His latest doesn’t disappoint. As always, I don’t agree with everything Smil says, but he remains one of the best thinkers out there at documenting the past and seeing the big picture.
- “Prepared,” by Diane Tavenner. As any parent knows, preparing your kids for life after high school is a long and sometimes difficult journey. Tavenner — who created a network of some of the best performing schools in the nation — has put together a helpful guidebook about how to make that process as smooth and fruitful as possible. Along the way, she shares what she’s learned about teaching kids not just what they need to get into college, but how to live a good life.
- “Why We Sleep,” by Matthew Walker. I read a couple of great books this year about human behavior, and this was one of the most interesting and profound. Everyone knows that a good night’s sleep is important — but what exactly counts as a good night’s sleep? And how do you make one happen? Walker has persuaded me to change my bedtime habits to up my chances. If your New Year’s resolution is to be healthier in 2020, his advice is a good place to start.