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60 Books Bill Gates Recommends. How Many Have You Read?

Bill Gates loves to recommend books that changed his worldview. Here are 60 of his favorites — and you can find the key insights to each title on Blinkist!
by Fionnuala Kavanagh | Jul 3 2018
“Reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.”
— Bill Gates

Microsoft made Bill Gates a household name but it’s his work beyond tech that keeps him in the headlines. Through various foundations he funds poverty reduction efforts, and research into healthcare and clean energy. He’s also a keen advocate of self-education and has, over the years, recommended circa 185 titles that he thinks are worth your time. The following 60 are available on Blinkist.

That might still sound like an intimidating to-be-read pile, but it doesn’t have to be. With the Blinkist app, you can read the key insights from any of the following 60 titles in 15 minutes or fewer (Here’s how it works). So, why not have a scan through and see which of Bill Gates’ favorite books you want to delve into first!

1. A Full Life by Jimmy Carter

Former US president and civil rights campaigner Jimmy Carter traces his life from humble roots in the deep south, through his term in office, to present day in this moving autobiography.

2. The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin provides intriguing insights into the lives and careers of two controversial former US presidents: Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Focusing on the role progressive investigative journalism played at the time, The Bully Pulpit exposes the tactics, trials, and tensions that boiled up over the course of both presidencies and soured the relationship between Roosevelt and Taft.

3. Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

Find out how humans evolved to become the most dominant species and how technology will certainly play an enormous role in our future development. Yuval Noah Harari threads together the influences of religion, politics, and anthropological development into a unique theory that shows us why we’ve got to where we have, and pushes us to question where it is that we want humanity to be going.

4. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens shot to the top of the bestsellers list because it offers a provocative and enlightening take on the development of humankind. Find out why capitalism is an imagined ideology, how the agricultural revolution messed up our work patterns forever, and the reason gossip has been integral to forming our societies. It’s no wonder this explosive read is one of Bill Gates’ top books!

5. Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker

Fuel your optimism with Steven Pinker’s look at how the Enlightenment made the world a safer, healthier, and more progressive place that just keeps getting better and better. Since the Age of Reason in the 18th Century, humanity has successfully been reducing poverty, disease, and war. Pick this 2018 bestseller to broaden your arguments against anyone coming at you with a pessimistic outlook.

6. The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker

Cognitive Neuroscientist Steven Pinker challenges the classic misconception that humans are innately wired to cheat, steal, and kill. We have a massive capacity for empathy and cooperation, and these jewels of the human condition, more often than not, manage to override our more selfish instincts.

7. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

Awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, The Sixth Extinction explains how humans are to blame for the massive reduction in numbers of animal species and biodiversity.

8. The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond

Small, traditional societies like hunter-gatherer tribes have a way of life that the modern human could do with taking note of. From respecting elders, to raising children, to solving disputes, there are many methods that we used to practice in the past, but somehow lost in recent development. If you’re curious about what life was like tens of thousands of years ago, try The World Until Yesterday.

9. Collapse by Jared Diamond

How do great societies crumble? Collapse answers this question by studying the rise and decline of ancient powerhouses like the Mayans and the Vikings. Pinpointing poor leadership and bad environmental management as the major destructive factors, Diamond draws worrying parallels between doomed societies of the past and the state of the world today.

10. Abundance by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Abundance shows us that the future is bright and it’s lit up by progressive technology. Another optimistic book recommended by Bill Gates, Abundance reassures readers that our current resource problems will be solved by technological advancement and social innovation.

11. The Grid by Gretchen Bakke

The Grid is the massive infrastructure powering the entire United States. Read about its history to fully appreciate its impressiveness and learn what needs to be done to transform it into a vessel of the future.

12. The Box by Mark Levinson

Combining economic strategy with a historical perspective, Mark Levinson looks at how the invention of the shipping container was a major catalyst for globalization. Containerization pushed down goods prices and revolutionized international trade, making it a significant cornerstone in the development of humankind.

13. How Not to Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg

Sold on the title? Me, too. Learn why maths is an extension of common sense, and how it underpins our daily lives. Engaging with mathematical thinking will help you live a little more astutely.

14. The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins challenges popular belief in supernatural phenomena, explaining it away with his trademark hard rationalism.

15. What If? by Randall Munroe

If the sun went dark what would happen to Earth? What if everyone had only one potential soulmate? What are the chances they would actually ever meet? Get well-researched answers to an array of the most far out hypothetical ‘what if’ scenarios.

16. How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff

Learn tricks of the marketing trade in this account of how statistics are manipulated to make us buy more. This favorite book of Bill Gates is a must-read for economics enthusiasts and shopping-savvy readers.

17. Factfulness by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund

Sometimes it’s easy to forget, but the world is a far more peaceful place than it was just a couple of generations ago. Factfulness builds piles of statistical evidence to challenge anyone clutching onto a pessimistic worldview.

18. The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver

Author Nate Silver famously predicted the outcome of the 2008 US presidential elections for 49/50 states. How? Statistics and probability outcomes. Learn how real-life phenomena are best understood with statistics and why the economy is so tricky to predict.

19. Business Adventures by John Brooks

Twelve surprising and entertaining case studies are presented to give readers an in-depth understanding of some of the most influential moments in business history. Gifted by Warren Buffett, Bill Gates once claimed that Business Adventures was his favorite book of all time!

20. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Just Do It. The tagline of global shoe brand Nike perfectly fits the ethos of its founder Phil Knight. Knight shares the story of how he created his sneaker mega-empire and pitfalls he had to overcome along the way.

21. Einstein by Walter Isaacson

Get to know the man behind the genius — and the mustache — in this thoughtful biography. Isaacson explores Einstein’s personal life, starting with his unusual childhood in Germany, roaming through his complex romantic relationships and ending with the surprising object found on his deathbed. Find out how Einstein’s quirky and rebellious character fed his mathematical genius and commitment to bettering humanity.

22. Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Isaacson paints a very detailed and human portrait of the original ‘renaissance man’ in this rich biography. Research based on Da Vinci’s original notebooks and his first biography from the 16th century are threaded into an exciting narrative.

23. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Cofounder of Apple, Steve Jobs is notorious for being unbelievably persnickety, strict, and eccentric. Isaacson delves into Steve Jobs’s wild and creative past, and explains how this innovative entrepreneur managed to become a leading tech icon.

24. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

World-renowned South African comedian Trevor Noah describes what it was like to grow up during and after Apartheid in South Africa. Enlivening historical accounts with personal anecdotes, Noah relates his emotionally-charged life story in an entertaining way.

25. On Immunity by Eula Biss

All you need to know about vaccines: why people fear them, where they come from, and whether or not your child should be vaccinated. If you want to know why UN workers were murdered for distributing polio vaccines, and how the US army used fake vaccines to find Osama Bin Laden, then try On Immunity.

26. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air is the profoundly moving memoir by brain surgeon and writer Paul Kalanithi. Kalanithi reflects on the meaning of life as he witnesses his transformation from doctor to terminal patient, and faces his own death with a deeply philosophical outlook.

27. Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

Remembering names and numbers is something many of us struggle with, but it’s easily fixable. US memory champion Joshua Foer explains that having a fantastic memory is a trained skill. For tips from the top, and to better understand how memory works, try this book recommended by Bill Gates.

28. String Theory by David Foster Wallace

A collection of essays about tennis by one of the most beloved novelists and fiery minds of our time. David Foster Wallace was a semi-professional tennis player before he turned his hand to writing. String Theory is an unusual and detailed analysis of sportsmanship and game play on and off the court.

29. Open by Andre Agassi

Former World Tennis Champion and winner of eight grand slams, Andre Agassi, reflects on his lifelong quest for greatness and self-understanding. Talking honestly about his difficult childhood and the turbulent periods in his private life, Agassi’s deeply reflective character is revealed.

30. The Road to Character by David Brooks

‘Money doesn’t buy happiness’ is the classic phrase often thrown around, but easily forgotten in today’s overworked consumerist society. New York Times columnist David Brooks shows readers how to stop chasing riches, turn inward and start nurturing qualities of moral worth such as kindness and commitment.

31. Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson

Steve Johnson explains how innovation works by drawing interesting parallels between the evolution of life on Earth and the history of science. Pulling examples from philosophy, biology, history, and the creative industries, Johnson inspires readers to think differently.

32. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

The ‘self-made man’ is a total myth, according to author Malcolm Gladwell. Success is dependent on an amalgamation of factors including upbringing, chance, and even month of birth! Read Outliers to understand how by recognizing the causes of uneven playing fields, we can create more opportunities for people to succeed.

33. The Myth of the Strong Leader by Archie Brown

Oxford University professor and award-winning author Archie Brown challenges the assumption that strong charismatic personalities always make the best leaders. By studying historically significant political leaders and democratic systems, Brown concludes that modesty is often better than ‘strength’ in great leadership.

34. Mindset by Carol Dweck

Find out how to achieve your goals by changing your mindset with this in-depth study of motivation. Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck explains the sharp difference between a fixed and a growth mindset, and trains readers to deal with setbacks better.

35. How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

Even from the early years of school it can seem clear who will go on to struggle and who will succeed. Drawing on studies and data gathered from schools, Paul Tough advises educators and parents on influential factors in children’s education.

36. Change By Design by Tim Brown

Design thinking utilizes problem-solving methods used in creative industries to catalyze innovation. Change By Design walks you through the basic principles of design thinking, and it’s one of the top books recommended by Bill Gates.

37. Epic Measures by Jeremy N. Smith

Christopher Murray achieved the seemingly impossible, he created a worldwide map of every disease and illness known to man. Find out what motivated this outstanding individual to develop the biggest ever medical study which revolutionized healthcare.

38. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Simply checking items off a list can hugely reduce human error in stressful, complex professions such as aviation and medicine. Learn from surgeon, Harvard professor, and New York Times writer Atul Gawande about how to consistently do things correctly.

39. Eradication by Nancy Leys Stepan

The Gates Foundation focuses primarily on progressing healthcare, so it comes as no surprise that one of Bill Gates’ favorite books is about how to eradicate disease. Learn about the major challenges faced by the health community in disease eradication and what public health is predicted to look like in the future.

40. The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley

If you’re fed up of all the doom and gloom that circulates in the press, The Rational Optimist is the perfect pick-me-up. Drawing on historical, political, and economic evidence, Ridley shows us that humanity has always had a wonderful ability to come up with innovative solutions to major problems, and it will continue to do so in the future.

41. SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Think like an economist and you’ll start to understand society better. Using statistics, authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner solve seemingly impossible cases and show us how number crunching can give both answers and entertainment. Read SuperFreakonomics to find out how increasing pollution could solve global warming, and why additional taxes exploded the rat population.

42. The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs

Renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs has a strategy for ending poverty forever. Relatively little investment, if channelled the right way, could transform the lives of millions for the better. Being a leading advocate for poverty eradication, Jeffrey Sachs is unsurprisingly an author Bill Gates is a fan of.

43. Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson

Pinpointing integrative institutions as the major reason why nations become prosperous, Why Nations Fail offers a new theory as to why some nations succeed and others struggle. Suggesting targeted institutional reform as a strategy to tackle gross inequality, this top recommendation by Bill Gates is a forward-thinking and riveting read.

44. How Asia Works by Joe Studwell

Author Joe Studwell compares the current state of economic prosperity across nine Asian countries and answers the questions ‘why in recent decades have some Asian economies boomed and others lagged behind?’ Learn why household farming and technological investment are key for the progress of developing countries.

45. Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Evicted exposes the deep social problems in the United States by telling the stories of families struggling to stay off the streets and survive in the poorest communities. Written by leading Harvard sociology professor Matthew Desmond, this emotionally-charged book gives a glimpse into the dark world of eviction.

46. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

A classic American Dream story and inspiring autobiography about J.D. Vance’s climb from rags to riches. Gain a better understanding of the causes of poverty in the United States’ rural communities by reading about how a man managed to break free of his ‘hillbilly roots’.

47. Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik

Materials scientist Mark Miodownik deconstructs the physical world around us and reveals the surprisingly intricate and special properties of the materials that make up everyday objects.

48. I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong

Dive into the microscopic world and see how microbes constantly mediate living beings’ survival and evolution. Author Ed Yong persuades us that we should pay closer attention to microbes, and appreciate how they formed an environment where mankind could prosper.

49. The Emperor of all Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Cancer poses one of the greatest challenges to medical science today. Learn about cancer causes, biological processes, and the developing treatments against it from a pioneering researcher in the field of oncology.

50. The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Learn how genes make you who you are by exploring the history of genetics. From the discovery of the genome, to Hitler’s distortion of genetic science, to the future of genetic manipulation, The Gene offers a thorough analysis of the building blocks of life.

51. The Great Escape by Angus Deaton

This is a great time to be alive. In fact, the world has never been better, according to Angus Deaton. Drawing attention to scientific breakthroughs and technological progress, Deaton argues that humanity has come on leaps and bounds, but still recognizes that inequality is growing. For well-thought-out strategies on how to close the inequality gap, pick The Great Escape.

52. Poor Economics by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo

How can we end poverty? Well, we are currently looking at the problem in the wrong way. Instead of focusing on abstract theories we need to pay attention to the perspectives of impoverished people. Drawing on years of fieldwork research, Poor Economics attempts to explain why poor people often make the self-destructive decisions that they do, and how we can change this.

53. Mighty Be Our Powers by Leymah Gbowee

Winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, Leymah Gbowee empowered Liberian women and fought tirelessly for the end of Liberia’s civil war. Mighty Be Our Powers maps Gbowee’s quest for peace and inspires readers to be the change they want to see in the world.

54. The Man Who Fed the World by Leon Hesser

An up-close look at former Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug, who single-handedly saved a billion people from starvation. The Man Who Fed the World examines the history of agriculture and explores how we can end world hunger in the future.

55. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Katherine Boo takes you on her personal journey through Annawadi, one of Mumbai’s biggest slums. Having spent over two years living in Annawadi, Boo exposes the corruption, disease, and hopelessness that thrives in one of the toughest living environments on earth.

56. Getting Better by Charles Kenny

Leading american economist Charles Kenny shares his optimistic prediction of the future of the world. A top book recommended by Bill Gates, Getting Better encourages us with the fact that the global quality of life has vastly improved — and it’s set to keep on climbing.

57. Making the Modern World by Vaclav Smil

Learn all there is to know about material consumption, from extraction to production and environmental pollution. You’ll start to see the materials you use every day in a different way, and question how we can reduce our current material dependence in order to protect our future.

58. Should We Eat Meat? by Vaclav Smil

Weighing up the pros and cons of meat consumption, Vaclav Smil makes the controversial argument that vegetarianism is not going to solve our unsustainable food production problems.

59. Energy by Vaclav Smil

Our current demand for energy poses a serious threat to the environment. But what is energy, and how can we harness more sustainable energy resources? Vaclav Smil explains how energy is utilized by every lifeform and underpins all of existence.

60. Energy Myths and Realities by Vaclav Smil

It’s hard to know what to believe about the state of the world’s energy consumption when politicians, industry leaders, and activists are blurring the facts with their own agendas. For an objective, science-based look at the global energy debate read this bestseller from leading energy scientist Vaclav Smil.

These top books recommended by Bill Gates should give you an insight into the interests and ideas that have inspired one of the world’s most influential optimists. For more thought fuel, delve into the Blinkist Library and see where new ideas can lead your thinking.

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