It’s an annual tradition for Bill Gates — Microsoft co-founder, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and avid reader — to release a summer reading list in May. This year, much of his attention is on the coronavirus pandemic, but he’s aware that many of us might be looking for distractions: The list includes not only his traditional five recommendations, but a bonus list as well. Here are his five favorite books for the season; something for all tastes, from imaginative novel to vivid history to accessible economic theory. For full book reviews, see Gates’ blog Gates Notes.
“The Choice” by Dr. Edith Eva Eger. Eger’s book tells of her survival of horrors at Auschwitz during World War II and her later life in the U.S. as she became a therapist; it’s part memoir and part guide to processing trauma. “Although Edith’s early life is what will make you pick up ‘The Choice,’ her insights as a therapist are what will stick with you long after you finish it,” Gates writes on his blog. “I hope it gives you some comfort in these challenging times.”
“Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell. An intricately interwoven tale of six stories set in different times and places, Mitchell’s 2004 novel is “a wonderful book that is hard to describe,” writes Gates. Though its “mind-bending nesting structure” makes for challenging reading, Gates finds that “Mitchell does such a great job of capturing the different worlds and the characters’ inner voices that I never wanted to stop reading.” Ultimately, Gates concludes, “This is a grand tale about human nature and human values — the things that change and the things that don’t, over hundreds or even thousands of years.”
“The Ride of a Lifetime” by Robert Iger. Written by the former CEO of Disney, this nonfiction book takes its reader through some memorable years with the company, including its acquisition of Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel and most of 21st Century Fox and the development of its streaming service. “I think anyone would enjoy this book,” Gates writes, “whether they’re looking for business insights or just want a good read by a humble guy who rose up the corporate ladder to successfully run one of the biggest companies in the world.”
“The Great Influenza” by John M. Barry. There are numerous lessons to be learned today, Gates believes, from the 1918 flu pandemic — and many of them are in the pages of Barry’s 2004 book. The author, Gates writes, “does a great job of showing just how profoundly that pandemic affected not just millions of families like mine [Gates’ grandmother, then pregnant, survived the pandemic] but also the entire flow of history … Writing roughly 16 years ago, Barry was clear and persuasive that ‘another pandemic not only can happen … It almost certainly will happen.'”
“Good Economics for Hard Times” by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. This married economics team’s first book was “Poor Economics” in 2011; now they’re back with another accessible book that focuses on “the policy debates that are getting so much attention in wealthy countries,” Gates writes, noting that the authors are particularly good at “assembling and explaining the facts behind contentious issues like immigration, inequality, and trade … Their research is not hard science, like chemistry or physics. But I found most of it to be useful and compelling. I suspect you will too.”
Gates also, on his blog, recommends a number of other books, TV shows and other entertainment, including Andy Weir’s novel “The Martian”; the Robert Redford/Brad Pitt movie “Spy Game” (which, Gates confesses, “I’ve probably seen 12 times”); TV shows “This Is Us,” “Ozark” and “A Million Little Things”; and online bridge (which he plays with his favorite bridge partner, Warren Buffett).