Need a summer reading recommendation? In what’s become an annual tradition, Bill Gates has announced his five favorite books for the season — one novel and four nonfiction works, several of which wrestle with some of life’s biggest questions. But don’t despair, writes Gates on his blog. “Despite the heavy subject matter, all of these books were fun to read, and most of them were pretty short.” Here are his picks:
“Leonardo da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson. This best-selling biography of a remarkable man follows Isaacson’s previous works about Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs. “Although today he’s best known as a painter, Leonardo had an absurdly wide range of interests, from human anatomy to the theater,” writes Gates. “Isaacson does the best job I’ve seen of pulling together the different strands of Leonardo’s life and explaining what made him so exceptional.”
“Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved” by Kate Bowler. In 2015 Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School, was diagnosed with stage IV cancer at the age of 35 — and in this book set out to understand why it happened. “The result is a heartbreaking, surprisingly funny memoir about faith and coming to grips with your own mortality,” writes Gates.
“Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders. Winner of the Man Booker Prize for fiction last year, this unique novel — told in 166 ghostly voices — has at its center a grieving Abraham Lincoln, coping with the death of his young son. “I got new insight into the way Lincoln must have been crushed by the weight of both grief and responsibility,” writes Gates. “This is one of those fascinating, ambiguous books you’ll want to discuss with a friend when you’re done.”
“Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian. “David created my favorite course of all time, ‘Big History,’” writes Gates, who is a supporter of the Big History Project (which makes the course available to learners and educators everywhere). The book, “which tells the story of the universe from the Big Bang to today’s complex societies,” writes Gates, “will leave you with a greater appreciation of humanity’s place in the universe.”
“Factfulness: Ten 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. “I’ve been recommending this book since the day it came out,” Gates writes. Hans Rosling, a 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 needs to improve. … It’s a fitting final word from a brilliant man, and one of the best books I’ve ever read.”
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