Bill Gates isn’t particularly interested in breezy beach reads this summer.
The billionaire bibliophile and Microsoft co-founder is back with his latest list of reading recommendations – this time, with five new titles for the summer season. And, as Gates admits in a post on his Gates Notes blog published Monday, this year’s list comes across as “pretty heavy for vacation reading.”
“There are books here about gender equality, political polarization, climate change, and the hard truth that life never goes the way young people think it will,” Gates, 66, writes. “It does not exactly sound like the stuff of beach reads.”
But that doesn’t mean they’re hard to read, he notes. From New York Times columnist Ezra Klein to science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, Gates writes that the authors of his latest picks are all “able to take a meaty subject and make it compelling without sacrificing any complexity.”
Here’s his list of five “great books for the summer”:
By Naomi Alderman
Gates writes that “The Power,” a 2016 sci-fi work from British novelist Naomi Alderman, was originally recommended to him by his oldest daughter, Jennifer.
The novel’s premise imagines a scenario where women around the world suddenly develop the ability to emit deadly electric shocks from their hands – which results in women becoming the dominant sex and forming a matriarchy. The book, which tackles themes of gender equality and gender roles, gained critical acclaim when it was released, including from The New York Times and former president Barack Obama.
“Reading ‘The Power,’ I gained a stronger and more visceral sense of the abuse and injustice many women experience today,” Gates writes. “And I expanded my appreciation for the people who work on these issues in the U.S. and around the world.”
‘Why We’re Polarized’
By Ezra Klein
Gates tries to remain “generally optimistic” about the future, he writes, but political polarization in the U.S. is the “one thing that dampens my outlook.” That very topic is the subject of “Why We’re Polarized,” written by Klein, a political analyst and co-founder of Vox.
Klein’s book approaches America’s political divisions from a psychological perspective, arguing that the groups people self-identify with – including political parties – play an outsized role in how they make decisions and view the world.
“If you want to understand what’s going on with politics in the United States right now, this is the book to pick up,” Gates writes.
‘The Lincoln Highway: A Novel’
By Amor Towles
American novelist Amor Towles is quickly becoming a staple on Gates’ reading lists: The billionaire included Towles’ bestselling “A Gentleman in Moscow” on his 2019 summer list, and now writes that he enjoyed “The Lincoln Highway” almost as much.
Published last year, Towles’ latest work is an adventure novel set in 1954. It’s the story of a teenager’s cross-country journey with his younger brother, which is thrown off course by a pair of tag-alongs from the protagonist’s history on a work farm for juvenile offenders.
“Towles takes inspiration from famous hero’s journeys and seems to be saying that our personal journeys are never as linear or predictable as we might hope,” Gates writes.
‘The Ministry for the Future’
By Kim Stanley Robinson
“The Ministry for the Future” is a sci-fi – or cli-fi, short for “climate fiction” – novel published in 2020. It is set in the near future, and follows a fictional global organization that spearheads various efforts to combat climate change.
Gates himself is an outspoken climate change activist who wrote his own book putting forth potential solutions to climate change last year. Notably, he writes that Robinson’s novel offers “a lot of intriguing ideas” while effectively explaining the science behind climate change and working toward “a surprisingly hopeful ending.”
‘How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going’
By Vaclac Smil
Gates doesn’t hold back his praise for “How the World Really Works,” calling it “another masterpiece from one of my favorite authors.”
The book is the latest work from Vaclav Smil, a Czech-Canadian professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Manitoba. In 2017, Gates wrote that he’d read all of Smil’s then-37 published books, on topics ranging from clean energy to manufacturing and agriculture. Gates intended to “wait for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next Star Wars movie,” he wrote.
Today, Gates writes that most of Smil’s books read like textbooks – but “this one is written for a general audience and gives an overview of the main areas of his expertise.” It covers how energy has shaped the history of civilization, from agricultural societies to our modern, industrial age.
Smil “has crunched all of the numbers” to deliver “a brief but thorough education in numeric thinking about many of the fundamental forces that shape human life,” Gates writes.
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