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Best Books Of 2015, Recommended By Bill Gates

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Dec 26, 2015

Bill Gates is a voracious reader. Gates reads more than 50 books a year while working hard on making the world a better place.

Here are the 6 books Gates picks as the best reads of the year. Reviews are taken from Gates Notes.

1. The Road to Character, by David Brooks

Gates Review: The central metaphor of the book comes from the Book of Genesis. Borrowing from a rabbi named Joseph Soleveitchik, Brooks points out that Genesis contains two opposing depictions of Adam, which represent two different sides of human nature. “Adam I is the career-oriented, ambitious side of our nature,” Brooks writes. “He wants to have high status and win victories.” Adam II, in contrast, is more internally focused. “Adam II wants to have a serene inner character, a quiet but solid sense of right and wrong—not only to do good, but to be good.”

Brooks fleshes out the Adam I/Adam II metaphor by offering profiles of a broad set of historical figures. Not all of them are paragons of virtue. But they are paragons of character.

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2. Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, by Randall Munroe

Gates Review: It was fun to read Randall Munroe’s new book, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, which will come out on November 24. Munroe sets out to explain various subjects—from how smartphones work to what the U.S. Constitution says—without any complicated terms.

Instead he draws blueprint-style diagrams and annotates them using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language. A nuclear reactor is a “heavy metal power building.” A dishwasher is a “box that cleans food holders.” The periodic table is “the pieces everything is made of.”

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3. Being Nixon: A Man Divided, by Evan Thomas

Gates Review: "It should go without saying: People are complicated. Yet I’m surprised by the number of biographies I read that paint their subjects in black-and-white terms. A classic example is former U.S. president Richard Nixon, who is too 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."

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4. Sustainable Materials With Both Eyes Open, by Julian M. Allwood, Jonathan M. Cullen, et al.

Gates Review: "The authors start by asking whether we can get a big enough reduction in greenhouse gases simply by producing these materials more efficiently. (They’re looking for a 50 percent reduction. I think we need to get to at least 80 percent by 2050 and eventually 100 percent, but either way you’re talking about a big cut.) Unfortunately, efficiency gains on their own won’t be enough.

The problem is that demand is going to double by mid-century. Suppose you make widgets, and you invent a way to cut your carbon emissions by 30 percent per widget. If you start making twice as many widgets, your overall emissions will still go up by 40 percent. The authors call this approach—thinking only about efficiency gains—looking “with one eye open.”

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5. Eradication: Ridding the World of Diseases Forever?, by Nancy Leys Stepan

Gates Review: I don’t remember the first time I heard of smallpox, but when I was a kid in Seattle in the 1960s it wasn’t exactly top of mind for my friends and me. I’m sure I heard about it when the World Health Organization announced in 1980 that smallpox had been eradicated, but I still didn’t pay much attention. After all, smallpox had been eradicated in the United States for almost a century; it’s hard to get too worked up about a disease that nobody you know has ever gotten.

It wasn’t until later, when our foundation joined global eradication efforts, that I really started thinking about what it takes to wipe a disease from the face of the earth. Most people think it’s incredibly difficult. It turns out, it’s much harder than that.

That’s why I enjoyed Nancy Leys Stepan’s book Eradication: Ridding the World of Diseases Forever?. It gives you a good sense of how involved the effort to eradicate a disease can get , how many different kinds of approaches have been tried without success, and how much we’ve learned from our failures."

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6. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck

Gates Review: Here is Dweck’s thesis: Our genes influence our intelligence and talents, but these qualities are not fixed at birth. If you mistakenly believe that your capabilities derive from DNA and destiny, rather than practice and perseverance, then you operate with what Dweck calls a “fixed mindset” rather than a “growth mindset.”

Our parents and teachers exert a big influence on which mindset we adopt—and that mindset, in turn, has a profound impact on how we learn and which paths we take in life."

Image by Gates Notes


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Ibrahim works as an Intern at FS. He takes interviews, writes features, and meets entrepreneurs and makers and doers.

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