Bill Gates Thinks You Should Read These 5 Books This Summer – Forbes
Keeping with his annual tradition, Bill Gates released his summer 2022 reading picks Monday in a post on his GatesNotes blog. This summer’s lineup spans books that cover the impacts of climate change, power associated with gender, and the causes of polarization in the U.S. For fun, there is an adventure novel set in the U.S. in the 1950s.
The billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft cofounder didn’t focus on one theme, like he did last year, when he wrote that his choices were influenced by the pandemic. Gates praises many of this year’s entries for being relevant to modern questions of identity, power and the state of the future.
Gates acknowledges that the topics for these books may sound a little too deep for vacation page-turners, but he says that each of the authors turned complex subjects into compelling stories and discussions.
“It does not exactly sound like the stuff of beach reads,” Gates writes. “I loved all five of these books and hope you find something here you’ll enjoy too.”
In the past, including at the end of 2020, Gates has tended to suggest mostly nonfiction works. Last summer, he had one novel in the catalog. For his latest recommendations, fiction accounts for a majority of the list.
Here are the five books he recommends:
How the World Really Works by Vaclav Smil
Last year Gates said Smil is his favorite author. In this book Smil, the celebrated Canadian environmental economist, explains seven phenomena determining human survivability and efficiency in a global, information-driven economy. How the World Really Works aims to summarize Smil’s studies of the world’s networks of agriculture, energy and production, as well as their connections to the function of society and impact on the environment. Gates says that for those who wish to learn about the forces that shape human life, this book is an excellent introduction. He also praises the book’s conclusions on economics and climate change being rooted in data, adding that “although Vaclav has strong opinions on many subjects … he avoids extremes.”
The Lincoln Highway: A Novel by Amor Towles
Gates praises fiction author Towles, saying he “is not a one-trick pony. Like all the best storytellers, he has range.” The author of A Gentleman in Moscow — which Gates previously recommended — Towles takes on an epic journey set in 1954 along the namesake highway. The character Emmett returns home to Nebraska and his eight-year-old brother Billy after 15 months of juvenile farm labor for involuntary manslaughter. Their father has died; their mother had left them years ago. The brothers plan to drive west to California to start a new life. But two of Emmett’s friends from the work farm, Duchess and Woolly, join them and force Emmett and Billy east to New York. Gates emphasizes that The Lincoln Highway has well-developed, strong and caring characters, especially Billy and the brothers’ neighbor Sally. The book, told from multiple points of view, shows, says Gates, that “personal journeys are never as linear or predictable as an interstate highway.”
Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein
Gates likens a person’s political views to their taste in card games: “for all I know, we could be like oil and water once we actually start talking. But we both love bridge, and that makes me more likely to connect with someone.” He says the latest book by Ezra Klein — a columnist and podcast host at The New York Times — outlines the psychological aspects of group mentality that define American politics today. At the forefront of polarization is political identity, Klein shows, which over the past 50 years has merged with racial, regional and ideological identities that impact the political institutions in place. A book incorporating data showing trends across state borders, within parties and throughout generations, Why We’re Polarized describes changes in the country’s political and information systems that have led many rationally-thinking individuals to become tug of war players. Gates says this book is important to understanding what is going on with politics in the U.S. today.
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
The title of this novel refers to a fictional subsidiary body in charge of implementing the international legally-binding Paris Agreement on climate change. It is a story of science, political responsibility and ideas to save the future. The novel starts with a heat and humidity wave in Uttar Pradesh, India that has led to the deaths of 20 million people, which Gates describes “as harrowing a scene as any I’ve read in a science fiction book” depicting an event that could take place in the real world. The two main characters, aid worker Frank May and diplomat Mary Murphy, who runs the ministry, work to meet the goal of fighting climate change to save humanity for future generations. Though Gates says some of the policies throughout the plot are flawed, he finds their theories intriguing. He concludes that Robinson’s novel shows “the urgency of this crisis in an original way” and “leaves readers with hope” of guiding tomorrow’s policies.
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Gates says he picked up this 2016 novel at the suggestion of his daughter Jenn. Naomi Alderman’s The Power poses the question of what would happen if women suddenly had the ability to administer electric shocks from their bodies at will. Following four characters — three of whom are women — with different experiences of gender in various social circles, institutions and locations, Alderman discusses the shift in control that leads to some people’s hopes for a more equal world, as well as the corruption of power, ensuing brutal revolutions and physical and sexual violence.
The male main character, Tunde, is a journalism student in Lagos who tries to document the social and political changes, but he runs into tough situations and has to adjust to living with different gender dynamics. The other three main characters raise questions about how to manage their new-found abilities. Roxy inherits the throne of a London crime syndicate ahead of her three older brothers. Margot is a budding New England politician with a teenage daughter, and Allie is a girl in the southern U.S. who escapes an abusive foster home and forms a new religion. Gates says that after reading this book, he “gained a stronger and more visceral sense of the abuse and injustice many women experience today” and that the hypotheses in this book are timely in today’s conversations surrounding gender.