Bill Gates Shares His Top Picks for Summer Reading

Posted by Cybil on May 21, 2018
Bill Gates' book picks

Bill Gates is many things: tech pioneer, founder and chairman of Microsoft, philanthropist, author, and an avid reader. Now, to kick off a new season of reading, he's sharing his top picks for the summer as well as his tips for making more time to read.


Goodreads: Why are you such an advocate for reading?

Bill Gates: Reading books is one of my favorite ways to learn new things, and I think everyone can benefit from being a lifelong learner. Books also help take you out of your own point of view and bring you into someone else’s experiences. Reading is a great way to understand the world around you.

Goodreads: How do you make time to read?

Bill Gates: I try to read every day, even when I’m busy and traveling. One of my bad habits is staying up really late at night to keep reading if I’m in the middle of a great book and don’t want to put it down. I also take a big canvas tote bag full of books when I go on vacation, since those are the times of year when I can do the most reading—when I’m not in meetings and have some time to relax.

Goodreads: Tell us about your reading recommendations!

Bill Gates: I’ve read some terrific books lately. When I pulled together this list of five that you might enjoy this summer, I realized that several of my choices wrestle with big questions. What makes a genius tick? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where does humanity come from, and where are we headed?

Despite the heavy subject matter, all these books were fun to read, and most of them are pretty short. Even the longest (Leonardo) goes quickly. If you’re looking for something to read over the next few months, you can’t go wrong with…

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"I think Leonardo was one of the most fascinating people ever. Although today he’s best known as a painter, Leonardo had an absurdly wide range of interests, from human anatomy to the theater. 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. A worthy follow-up to Isaacson’s great biographies of Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs."


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"When Bowler, a professor at the Duke Divinity School, is diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, she sets out to understand why it happened. Is it a test of her character? The result is a heartbreaking, surprisingly funny memoir about faith and coming to grips with your own mortality."


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"I thought I knew everything I needed to know about Abraham Lincoln, but this novel made me rethink parts of his life. It blends historical facts from the Civil War with fantastical elements—it’s basically a long conversation among 166 ghosts, including Lincoln’s deceased son. I got new insight into the way Lincoln must have been crushed by the weight of both grief and responsibility. This is one of those fascinating, ambiguous books you’ll want to discuss with a friend when you’re done."


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"David created my favorite course of all time, Big History. It tells the story of the universe from the big bang to today’s complex societies, weaving together insights and evidence from various disciplines into a single narrative. If you haven’t taken Big History yet, Origin Story is a great introduction. If you have, it’s a great refresher. Either way, the book will leave you with a greater appreciation of humanity’s place in the universe."


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"I’ve been recommending this book since the day it came out. 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."



Comments Showing 1-50 of 131 (131 new)


message 1: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Cassity Already read "Leonardo", and everything else about him. Interested in "Lincoln in the Bardo".


message 2: by Magnus (new)

Magnus Leonardo is fascinating to me. Today someone like him would be miserable, stuck building crappy web sites for Silicon Valley startups. The polymath isn't valued in modern society. I'd love to read this one.


message 3: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Ellis Can't wait to read David Christian's new book, Origin Story! I've taken his Big History course twice and read his other books. This one should be arriving tomorrow since I pre-ordered it from Amazon.


message 4: by Josephine (last edited May 21, 2018 11:43AM) (new)

Josephine Cool. Thanks, Bill Gates!

Oh, sorry. Were you expecting that to be deeper?


message 5: by Stephan (new)

Stephan Stys Some people don't do that. I've never seen my dad read a book in my life that was for fun. I know he has, but he hasn't in the last 30 years.


message 6: by Libardo (new)

Libardo Muñoz I absolutely love the recomendation from Bill. Thanks


message 7: by Stephan (new)

Stephan Stys And some people are so opposed to the idea of amusement that refrain from all of it.

I don't think you're an outlier. It sounds like you're pretty normal.


message 8: by Brian (new)

Brian Hutzell I really liked Isaacson’s . I wasn’t wild about his biography of Steve Jobs. It seemed a bit like a hatchet job but perhaps that was deserved. Does anyone have thoughts on Isaacson’s biography of Einstein?


message 9: by Tim (last edited May 21, 2018 12:57PM) (new)

Tim O'Hearn Chris wrote: "What's funny is how people in these articles always recommend books that show what
serious
readers they are. Not even a billionaire is exempt from the urge to impress strangers it seems.

Just ..."


I have to give you credit, Chris, as this is the first time I've seen this phenomenon mentioned. It's the same way with a lot of widely-subscribed book clubs. It seems the lists are always curated to convey intellect and subliminally push some agenda. I think we're doing the community a disservice and unnecessarily excluding would-be first-time participants by not including more of what would be considered guilty pleasures in lists like this. With my notion of what constitutes a summer book, this list is a joke.


message 10: by Stephan (last edited May 21, 2018 01:07PM) (new)

Stephan Stys Is it really surprising that these are the books Bill Gates reads for fun? Fun is relative. I bet Bill Gates actually thinks these are fun. You might like the list Martha Stuart puts out instead. Read her list.


message 11: by Zainab (last edited May 21, 2018 01:07PM) (new)

Zainab Al Lawati Chris wrote: "Stephan wrote: "Some people don't do that. I've never seen my dad read a book in my life that was for fun. I know he has, but he hasn't in the last 30 years."

Maybe I'm an outlier, but reading for..."


I am with Stephan on this. I haven't seen my parent read a non-serious book since I can remember. However, they do enjoy and look forward to their serious read.

Looking at their old bookshelf, there is plenty of old fun or classic books, which they have read at some point in the past. I guess their palate has changed by time, and I am assuming there are many people who are similar to my parents.


message 12: by Atte (new)

Atte Tim wrote: "Chris wrote: "What's funny is how people in these articles always recommend books that show what
serious
readers they are. Not even a billionaire is exempt from the urge to impress strangers it ..."


Chris wrote: "What's funny is how people in these articles always recommend books that show what
serious
readers they are. Not even a billionaire is exempt from the urge to impress strangers it seems.

Just ..."


Or maybe he is actually interested in those topics. You know, not everybody is interested in YA-books and such even though they might be considered "fun" by some people (mainly YOUNG people).


message 13: by Richard (new)

Richard Understanding Leonardo da Vinci may be fun but it’s not important the way understanding cancer and other diseaases is important.


message 14: by Siren (new)

Siren Chris wrote: "What's funny is how people in these articles always recommend books that show what
serious
readers they are. Not even a billionaire is exempt from the urge to impress strangers it seems.

Just ..."


I guess the first thing a lot of people think of when someone ask them to recommend something are reads that have been profound to them in some way. I am pretty sure Bill Gates has read his fair share of derpy sci fi and fantasy, but might not be what he'd necessarily recommend.


message 15: by Dale (new)

Dale Dean Lincoln in the bardo blew me away! A true classic


message 16: by Thom (new)

Thom Okay, how about some less serious books from the last year on https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books#All

* Turtles All the Way Down https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Turt...
* The Sympathizer https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/The-...
* The Best We Could Do https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/The-...

And before that

* Seveneves https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Seve...
* The Rosie Project https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/The-...

This list contains far more than weighty tomes!


message 17: by Suzanne, Goodreads employee (new)

Suzanne "Maybe I'm an outlier, but reading for me is fun sprinkled with serious. I suppose most people might get their amusement from TV and movies."

Chris, while the books he shares tend to be thought provoking more serious topics, he has also recommended these books in past lists:

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1) by Graeme Simsion

Born a Crime Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Believe Me A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard


message 18: by Suvi (last edited May 21, 2018 03:21PM) (new)

Suvi Tim wrote: "I think we're doing the community a disservice and unnecessarily excluding would-be first-time participants by not including more of what would be considered guilty pleasures in lists like this. With my notion of what constitutes a summer book, this list is a joke."

That is just your notion of a summer book. We all have our own notions. These are books that Gates wanted to recommend at the moment, and I have no doubt he enjoyed them just as much as he did some of the lighter reads he has recommended in the past. Like Gates said, just because a book is "serious", doesn't mean it can't be fun: "Despite the heavy subject matter, all these books were fun to read, and most of them are pretty short."


message 19: by Erika (new)

Erika Siren wrote: "Chris wrote: "What's funny is how people in these articles always recommend books that show what
serious
readers they are. Not even a billionaire is exempt from the urge to impress strangers it ..."


I agree with Siren here. While Chris might be right in saying that Bill Gates is working hard to project a certain image through his choice of recommended books ("keeping up the brand" you might say), I also think that the books people tend to recommend are not the light, "fun" ones. Sure, you read them, you enjoy them, you go on with your life. But the books that touch you, the ones that stay with you, that spark conversation and thought, are not usually the "fun" ones. They're the ones like Gates recommends here.


message 20: by Charles (new)

Charles Heath Stephan wrote: "Is it really surprising that these are the books Bill Gates reads for fun? Fun is relative. I bet Bill Gates actually thinks these are fun. You might like the list Martha Stuart puts out instead. R..." WHOS MARTHA STUART


message 21: by T.E. (new)

T.E. Antonino I noticed that Bill likes to read about geniuses. I often wonder what the criteria is for a creative genius. Is it dependent on the individual? I know some people laugh hysterically at a stand-up comedian, while others won't even crack a smile at the same joke. How does genius apply to writing? I'm a writer so I often wonder about these things.


message 22: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Kathy wrote: "Already read "Leonardo", and everything else about him. Interested in "Lincoln in the Bardo"."

I really enjoyed Lincoln in the Bardo, but I know some people think it's too silly in spots -- the ghosts tend to in this Dante-esque fashion take on an appearance that reflects their earthly sins and obsessions.


message 23: by Reem (new)

Reem And I would just like to add that 'serious' books can be fun (duh). I mean it in the way that you like get thrilled and can't just sit still. When I'm reading a really good ~serious~ book I literally feel excited and refreshed and so engaged and more and more interested. Again, yeah I agree I truly hate this kinda of agenda regarding reading books and the image people like to represent sometimes. Though fun books mean different things to different people and in different ages.


Tyler J [They/He] Gray Me: *Why do I care what Bill Gates thinks I should read this summer?*
Also Me: *Clicks it anyway*
.....
These are "summer" books? Or is even someone as rich as him not immune to wanting to impress people? Lists like these just scream pretentious "look at me i'm sooo intellectual" to me.

Like I enjoy serious reading and learning stuff from books too, but why do these lists never include books that aren't so serious? How are these "summer" reads? I'd be more interested in seeing people's "guilty pleasures" as I don't think they should be considered guilty, just reading for fun and enjoyment and getting to know the person better, not this air they try to put on with a certain agenda.

Granted maybe i'm all wrong. But lists like these from famous people always look like this. This doesn't impress me like it seems they want it too, it makes me think they are stuffy, boring and overly judgmental though I do see the irony in that last part...

Summer reads make me think of the beach, summer activities and light fluffy reads. Though everyone can certainly be different.


message 25: by Luis (last edited May 21, 2018 08:08PM) (new)

Luis Fernando Great recommendations, remember guys, the best books are not novels about vampires, witches and christian grey, the best books are the non fiction books and the history and science books. Be wiser.


message 26: by Luis (new)

Luis Fernando Stephanie wrote: "Me: *Why do I care what Bill Gates thinks I should read this summer?*
Also Me: *Clicks it anyway*
.....
These are "summer" books? Or is even someone as rich as him not immune to wanting to impress ..."


The real books are about history, biography and science. Fantasy books are so boring.


message 27: by Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* (last edited May 21, 2018 08:36PM) (new)

Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* Luis wrote: "Great recommendations, remember guys, the best books are not novels about vampires, witches and christian grey, the best books are the non fiction books and the history and science books. Be wiser."

Ugh! Let's just agree that these lists are subjective and leave it at that when defining "best books."


message 28: by Luis (new)

Luis Fernando Fantasy fiction books are a huge waste of time and life.


Tyler J [They/He] Gray Luis wrote: "Stephanie wrote: "Me: *Why do I care what Bill Gates thinks I should read this summer?*
Also Me: *Clicks it anyway*
.....
These are "summer" books? Or is even someone as rich as him not immune to w..."


Not much of a fantasy reader here actually, sometimes but horror, sci-fi, and contemporary more so. Generally I agree that fantasy is boring, though many people love fantasy and there isn't anything wrong with that. Just find it funny you assumed i'm into fantasy most.

I do agree with Erin, it's really subjective actually.

I just am tired of seeing the trend of celebrities/high profile people recommending the same kind of books over and over that seem really stuffy, for lack of knowing how to better phrase it right now. People are always trying to impress others. Some of them may be serious but often I feel like people are just embarrassed to say the kind of books they really love for whatever reason, because they aren't "classical or intellectual literature" so they feel like people will judge them for it. Meanwhile them worried about people judging them just makes me roll my eyes.

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with those books and I do apologize for coming off that way. I do enjoy classics, non-fiction and such books once in awhile, though i'd never call them "summer reads" because "summer reads" to me says "light reads" but then again, maybe that's me. And no genre is "better" than another. There are good and bad books everywhere, and it's really subjective.

I think I just went in a circle...


Tyler J [They/He] Gray Luis wrote: "Fantasy fiction books are a huge waste of time and life."

Seriously? I'm disabled, live in constant pain and reading is an escape for me so I can survive day to day. Life is stressful and difficult when you can barely do anything and are always in agony. Excuse me for wanting to do something to take my mind off the pain for a little bit. So what do you suggest I do?


message 31: by David (new)

David Luis wrote: "Fantasy fiction books are a huge waste of time and life."

Ah yes, and the vacuous Dean Koontz thriller and biography of a lady from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills that you've recently read are such a fantastic use of your time. Please tell me how they have made you a smarter, more worthwhile human being. I'll wait. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.


message 32: by Charles (new)

Charles Charles wrote: "Stephan wrote: "Is it really surprising that these are the books Bill Gates reads for fun? Fun is relative. I bet Bill Gates actually thinks these are fun. You might like the list Martha Stuart put..."

and does she really put out?


message 33: by Charles (new)

Charles Josephine wrote: "Cool. Thanks, Bill Gates!

Oh, sorry. Were you expecting that to be deeper?"


That's what she said.


message 34: by Charles (new)

Charles Luis wrote: "Stephanie wrote: "Me: *Why do I care what Bill Gates thinks I should read this summer?*
Also Me: *Clicks it anyway*
.....
These are "summer" books? Or is even someone as rich as him not immune to w..."


"Fantasy books are so boring"

Part of the reason I enjoy fantasy books so much is the way that they hold up a slightly twisted mirror to us.


message 35: by Axslingin (new)

Axslingin Maybe I'll check those out. I'm having a difficult time finding a book I like written after 1930.


message 36: by Ayesha 🌻 (new)

Ayesha 🌻 Chris wrote: "What's funny is how people in these articles always recommend books that show what
serious
readers they are. Not even a billionaire is exempt from the urge to impress strangers it seems.

Just ..."


But he reads and likes John Green's books


message 37: by Bridget (last edited May 22, 2018 05:06AM) (new)

Bridget How about instead of debating back and forth about what this man enjoys, a man most of us will never meet. How about we just realize we are individuals and can ENJOY reading different things than someone elses. Some people may read just nonfiction, others, fiction. Some may like only YA, some may only like adult or middle grade. Some may like a mix of everything. Many different types of books for the many different tastes in INDIVIDUALS.


message 38: by Bridget (new)

Bridget Luis wrote: "Fantasy fiction books are a huge waste of time and life."
Preferences. People might find what you read boring and a waste. Its all about personal taste... pay attention to two words...preference and personal


message 39: by Suvi (new)

Suvi Bridget wrote: "How a out instead of debating back and forth about what this man enjoys, a man most of us will never meet. How about we just realize we are individuals and can ENJOY reading different things than s..."

Thank you! Complaining that someone doesn't have enough fluff or light summer books in their list of recommendations is equally pointless as complaining that they don't like your favorite book.


message 40: by Bridget (new)

Bridget Suvi wrote: "Bridget wrote: "How a out instead of debating back and forth about what this man enjoys, a man most of us will never meet. How about we just realize we are individuals and can ENJOY reading differe..."
Exactly! Summer read to me is a light read but i may decide to read a heavier read during the summer. Others may think reading thrillers over horror during summer is a light read (hey, someone might lol) It's all about what that person likes.


message 41: by Suvi (last edited May 22, 2018 05:42AM) (new)

Suvi Bridget wrote: "Exactly! Summer read to me is a light read but i may decide to read a heavier read during the summer. Others may think reading thrillers over horror during summer is a light read (hey, someone might lol) It's all about what that person likes."

Yeah, it really is. Personally, in hot weather I like to read Agatha Christie or something similar, but on the other hand I have more time and patience during the summer, so a heavy classic novel is equally a summer book to me.

Besides, the post isn't about light reading per se. Gates recommends books he's enjoyed lately, and usually it's natural to think about the latest books you've read, even when someone asks recommendations for the summer. Adding a token fluff novel just for the sake of it or as an afterthought does a disservice to fluff readers.


message 42: by Beverly (new)

Beverly Hollandbeck I'd like to add my two cents to the discussion about light/serious reading. I do plenty of "light" reading, usually very quickly. Gates and I are about the same age, and as I - maybe we - get older, we realize that a book should be worthy of the time we have left. When I was in my twenties, my goal in life was to learn everything there was to learn. At seventy, I'm not there yet. "Serious" books, books about real things in life - history, science, politics, economics - just seem a better use of my time. I'm surprised that people would think thaat academic topics would not be fun reading.


message 43: by Srini (new)

Srini Chris wrote: "What's funny is how people in these articles always recommend books that show what
serious
readers they are. Not even a billionaire is exempt from the urge to impress strangers it seems.

Just ..."


I know many people who do not enjoy trashy fiction. Nothing wrong with enjoying a book, but its not everyone's cup of tea. For example, even when I was in my late teens or 20s, I never enjoyed romance novels. And now in my 30s although i do read fiction, I enjoy non-fiction a lot more. So, although i do not know Bill Gates, I think there is a good chance his recommendations are honest and that he honestly does find these books fun (after all fun is subjective). Cheers!


message 44: by Srini (new)

Srini Beverly wrote: "I'd like to add my two cents to the discussion about light/serious reading. I do plenty of "light" reading, usually very quickly. Gates and I are about the same age, and as I - maybe we - get older..."

Hi Beverly, I really agree with what you said. Now in my 30s, when i want to read a book, i really ask myself if it is worthy of my time. The only time i do "light" reading is if it has a lot of good reviews or if I got it for free. And I've found, I don't particularly enjoy these "light" readings anymore.


message 45: by Josephine (new)

Josephine Charles wrote: "Josephine wrote: "Cool. Thanks, Bill Gates!

Oh, sorry. Were you expecting that to be deeper?"

That's what she said."


I should've seen that coming.


message 46: by Tyler J [They/He] (last edited May 22, 2018 08:35AM) (new)

Tyler J [They/He] Gray What really got under my skin (and I shouldn't have let it) is saying stuff like fantasy and vampires and witches wasn't "real" reading or worth someones time. I don't care what Bill Gates finds fun reading but I also don't know the man and have nothing against him. He could very well find these books fun, it is subjective.

You don't know why someone else is reading. Reading in general is great and what I mean by "light" novels can still include deeper messages and emotions in them, getting to understand what it's like for someone else or just realizing you aren't alone, which can the world to marginalized people. A lot of people read to know they aren't alone, escape a stressful life for a bit, or to see through someone else's eyes and POV, which is also learning and can help with empathy and compassion, something the world needs more of.

Personally I enjoy a bit of everything. I do have genres I prefer more often but I read a bit of everything over-all. That's just me though. No one should be judged for what they read. You don't know their reasons or what they are getting out of it.

In terms of seasonal reading classics and non-fiction i'd call winter time reads. I think of summer I think of the beach, sunshine, the ocean, mermaids, pirates. Again, that's me though. I can see what someone considers reading for a particular season differs from person to person.


message 47: by Stephan (new)

Stephan Stys Chris wrote: "Josephine wrote: "Charles wrote: "Josephine wrote: "Cool. Thanks, Bill Gates!

Oh, sorry. Were you expecting that to be deeper?"

That's what she said."

I should've seen that coming."

Are you a m..."


I think gays are allowed to make "that's what she said" jokes as well. For example, "Hey, you aren't supposed to be here. That's what she saaaaid."


message 48: by Charles (new)

Charles Josephine wrote: "Charles wrote: "Josephine wrote: "Cool. Thanks, Bill Gates!

Oh, sorry. Were you expecting that to be deeper?"

That's what she said."

I should've seen that coming."


That is also what she said.


message 49: by Drew (new)

Drew Chris wrote: "What's funny is how people in these articles always recommend books that show what
serious
readers they are. Not even a billionaire is exempt from the urge to impress strangers it seems.

Just ..."


Some people have different ideas about what's fun to read. I've had people try to convince me to read books they enjoyed (that I had no interest in) by telling me to read something enjoyable not just what I think I "should" read. But I am reading what I enjoy! It just wasn't what she would have chosen.


message 50: by Anna (new)

Anna I could not get into "Lincoln in the Bardo". I had the audio book and listened to it for over an hour and just was so lost as to who was what and where etc. To me it made no sense whatsoever. too many books to keep going. Deleted it and moved onto the next book which I thoroughly enjoyed!


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