Is your summer reading list complete? If not, consider taking some recommendations from billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
There are no detective or romance novels among Gates’ suggestions. But on the flipside, it won’t bring back memories of that list of ponderous books you were supposed to read before your freshman year of college. Gates’ top-five picks include one novel and four nonfiction pieces, which Gates assures readers are “fun to read, and most of them are pretty short.” This doesn’t mean they’re fluff, though, as most of the works address life’s most important questions.
1. Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson
Okay, I know Gates said these were short reads, but that term is definitely relative. Still, packed inside these 684 pages is chronical of the famed Renaissance inventor, scientist, painter, and sculptor that Gates believes conveys a holistic portrait of the artist.
“More than any other Leonardo book I’ve read, this one helps you see him as a complete human being and understand just how special he was. He came close to understanding almost all of what was then known on the planet at the time. That’s partly because scientific knowledge was relatively limited then, partly because he had a high IQ, but mostly because he was insatiably curious about pretty much every area of natural science and the human experience,” Gates writes.
2. Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, by Kate Bowler
This memoir is short, at just over 200 pages, but it is chocked full of heart, heartbreak, and humor. Bowler, a professor at the Duke Divinity School in North Carolina, is living with Stage IV colon cancer. In her writing, she considers whether her cancer is a test of her character. She decides that, no, despite all the clichés, not everything happens for a reason. At the same time, she doesn’t accept the other side of the coin and instead refutes the idea that her condition is just random happenstance. Her work is an amazing exploration of faith, coming to grips with mortality, and the simple importance of being there for a sick friend or relative.
3. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
This work of historical fiction made Gates, an Abraham Lincoln buff, rethink part of Lincoln’s life. Set in a cemetery shortly after 11-year-old Willie Lincoln died of typhoid fever in 1862, Saunders merges history, fiction and 166 spirits to weave his story. “Lincoln in the Bardo is heavy stuff for a summer book, but I’m really glad I picked it up. It’s a quick read thanks to its play-like format, and some of the ghosts’ stories are surprisingly funny given the subject matter,” Gates writes.
4. Origin Story: A Big History of Everything, by David Christian
Want to travel from the Big Bang to today? Then delve into this tale that spans across 13.7 billion years the universe. It’s divided into key transition points, or “thresholds,” which help the book distill “the latest thinking about the origins of the universe,” said Gates. It’s a chronicle on Big History that ends with a look at the future that “is more pessimistic than mine is,” says Gates. “But he nails the importance of this moment in history: ‘Things are happening so fast that, like the slow-motion time of a near accident, the details of what we do in the next few decades will have huge consequences for us and for the biosphere on scales of thousands of years.’”
5. Factfulness: 10 Reasons We’re Wrong about the World — and Why Things are Better than You Think, by Hans Rosling, with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund
Calling it “one the best books I’ve ever read,” Gates says Factfulness provides an interesting lens through which we can see how life is getting better. The authors dissect ten human instincts that keep us from seeing the world “factfully.” Because people tend to pay more attention to frightening things, for example, we hold biases about what the world is like these days. Using statistics, Rosling shows how humanity is constantly improving, despite our dreary notions, when we look at things like birth rates, life expectancy, and the gender wage gap. “Hans, the brilliant global-health lecturer who died last year, gives you a breakthrough way of understanding basic truths about the world — how life is getting better, and where the world still needs to improve. And he weaves in unforgettable anecdotes from his life. It’s a fitting final word from a brilliant man, and one of the best books I’ve ever read,” Gates said.