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Bill Gates Has Always Sought Out New Reading Recommendations

Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?

I’m surprised more books haven’t been written about how the insights we’re gaining from big data could be used for good. I read “Everybody Lies,” by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, last summer, which is all about what internet data — and especially search engines — reveal about human behavior. (Did you know that people who have pancreatic cancer often Google both “back pain” and “yellowing skin” before being diagnosed?) It was super interesting, but he didn’t get into what we could do with these learnings. I’d love to read a thoughtful book about how this information could make life better.

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

I think books are one of the best ways to learn about the world, so I love reading things that teach me something new. My reading list always includes a bunch of history and science books. Over a decade ago, I started reviewing books on my blog, but it’s only a small look at what I read every year, and it doesn’t include things like the academic textbooks or research reports that I find really useful. I gravitate more toward nonfiction, although I wouldn’t say I avoid fiction. I only read a couple novels each year. I usually end up loving them, though, so maybe I should try to read more.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I’ve always liked getting recommendations from other people, even when I was a little kid. I used to ask my teachers what their favorite books were and make my way through the lists they gave me. Our school librarian used to suggest things for me to read, too. She’d often give me books that were supposed to be for kids older than I was, which was very exciting for me. The book I probably read the most growing up was “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,” a great science fiction book by Robert Heinlein.

How have your reading tastes changed over time?

I used to read a lot of science fiction when I was a kid, but not so much as an adult (although I rediscovered my love for the genre through Neal Stephenson’s incredible “Seveneves” a few years ago). These days, I reach for books about a much broader range of topics than I used to. I read Andy Puddicombe’s “The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness” a couple years ago — I don’t think my 20-year-old self would’ve ever picked that one. As my kids have grown older, they’ve introduced me to a lot of great books and authors that I wouldn’t necessarily have come across by myself, like John Green. That’s been a lot of fun. And Melinda is always helping me expand my horizons — she suggested I read Edith Eva Eger’s book “The Choice” last year, and I loved it.

What book would you recommend for America’s current political moment?

“These Truths,” by Jill Lepore. If you’re going to solve a problem, you need to understand the context behind how it came to be. Lepore has written the most honest accounting of our country’s history that I’ve ever read. The book is long, but it makes it clear how a lot of what we learned in school is simplified and ignores the less savory parts of American history.

What do you plan to read next?

I can’t wait to read Walter Isaacson’s new book, “The Code Breaker,” when it comes out in a couple weeks. It’s about Jennifer Doudna, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year for her work on the CRISPR gene-editing platform.

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