Bill Gates Shares His Summer Reading Picks

Posted by Cybil on May 18, 2020
Tech pioneer, co-founder of Microsoft, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and author Bill Gates is an avid reader who has become known for his excellent book recommendations. As he has for several years now, he's once again sharing his summer reading recommendations with his fellow readers.

You can also get Gates' book recommendations throughout the year and see all the other books on his shelf by following him here.

Most of my conversations and meetings these days are about COVID-19 and how we can stem the tide. But I’m also often asked about what I am reading—either because people want to learn more about pandemics, or because they are looking for a distraction. So, in addition to the five new book reviews I always write for my summer book list, I included a number of other recommendations. I hope you find something that catches your interest.

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This book is partly a memoir and partly a guide to processing trauma. Eger was only 16 years old when she and her family got sent to Auschwitz. After surviving unbelievable horrors, she moved to the United States and became a therapist. Her unique background gives her amazing insight, and I think many people will find comfort right now from her suggestions on how to handle difficult situations.

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This is the kind of novel you’ll think and talk about for a long time after you finish it. The plot is a bit hard to explain, because it involves six interrelated stories that take place centuries apart (including one I particularly loved about a young American doctor on a sailing ship in the South Pacific in the mid-1800s). But if you’re in the mood for a really compelling tale about the best and worst of humanity, I think you’ll find yourself as engrossed in it as I was.

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This is one of the best business books I’ve read in several years. Iger does a terrific job explaining what it’s really like to be the CEO of a large company. Whether you’re looking for business insights or just an entertaining read, I think anyone would enjoy his stories about overseeing Disney during one of the most transformative times in its history.

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We’re living through an unprecedented time right now. But if you’re looking for a historical comparison, the 1918 influenza pandemic is as close as you’re going to get. Barry will teach you almost everything you need to know about one of the deadliest outbreaks in human history. Even though 1918 was a very different time from today, The Great Influenza is a good reminder that we’re still dealing with many of the same challenges.

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Banerjee and Duflo won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences last year, and they’re two of the smartest economists working today. Fortunately for us, they’re also very good at making economics accessible to the average person. Their newest book takes on inequality and political divisions by focusing on policy debates that are at the forefront in wealthy countries like the United States.

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For years, I was a skeptic about meditation. Now I do it as often as I can—three times a week, if time allows. Andy’s book and the app he created, Headspace, are what made me a convert. Andy, a former Buddhist monk, offers lots of helpful metaphors to explain potentially tricky concepts in meditation. At a time when we all could use a few minutes to de-stress and refocus each day, this is a great place to start.

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If you’re looking to work on a new skill, you could do worse than learning to memorize things. Foer is a science writer who got interested in how memory works, and why some people seem to have an amazing ability to recall facts. He takes you inside the U.S. Memory Championship—yes, that’s a real thing—and introduces you to the techniques that, amazingly, allowed him to win the contest one year.

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You may remember the movie from a few years ago, when Matt Damon—playing a botanist who’s been stranded on Mars—sets aside his fear and says, “I’m going to science the s--- out of this.” We’re doing the same thing with the novel coronavirus.

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The main character in this novel is living through a situation that now feels very relatable: He can’t leave the building he’s living in. But he’s not stuck there because of a disease; it’s 1922, and he’s a Russian count who’s serving a life sentence under house arrest in a hotel. I thought it was a fun, clever, and surprisingly upbeat story about making the best of your surroundings.

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All three of the Rosie novels made me laugh out loud. They’re about a genetics professor with Asperger’s syndrome who (in the first book) goes looking for a wife and then (in the second and third books) starts a family. Ultimately the story is about getting inside the mind and heart of someone a lot of people see as odd, and discovering that he isn’t really that different from anybody else. Melinda got me started on these books, and I’m glad she did.

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I don’t read a lot of comics or graphic novels, but I’ve really enjoyed the few that I have picked up. The best ones combine amazing storytelling with striking visuals. In her memoir The Best We Could Do, for example, Thi Bui gains a new appreciation for what her parents—who survived the Vietnam War—went through. It’s a deeply personal book that explores what it means to be a parent and a refugee.

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On the lighter side is Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened, by Allie Brosh. You will rip through it in three hours, tops. But you’ll wish it went on longer, because it’s funny and smart as hell. I must have read Melinda a dozen hilarious passages out loud.

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Finally, I love the way that former NASA engineer Randall Munroe turns offbeat science lessons into super-engaging comics. The two books of his that I’ve read and highly recommend are What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions and xkcd: volume 0. I also have Randall’s latest book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems, on my bookshelf and hope to read it soon. If you’ve read it, let me know what you think in the comments.

Which of these recommendations piques your interest? Let's talk books in the comments!

Check out more recent articles, including:
A New Season of Reading: The Hot Books of Summer
'Beach Read' Author Emily Henry Picks 11 Rom-Coms for the Perfect Escape
Authors Offer Their Summer Reading Recommendations

Comments Showing 1-50 of 163 (163 new)

message 1: by Hamed (new)

Hamed Al-Hamdan Thanks for sharing

message 2: by Chris (new)

Chris Much to my surprise, I loved A Gentleman in Moscow. A quiet novel of character. Quite the opposite from another you've listed that I also loved, The Martian. Although not necessarily face-paced, I think I said in my review that is was like MacGyver on steroids!! Enjoyed the self-deprecating humor of the MC. The book that most piques my interest is Moonwalking with Einstein. As my memory seems to worsen (more like a sieve vs. the steel-trap of yesterday), techniques to improve or stretch that muscle would be useful perhaps? Thanks for sharing your list.

message 3: by Marta (last edited May 18, 2020 12:25PM) (new)

Marta I have been following you for a while and found that our taste in books overlaps quite a bit. Well, maybe because I am also a techie and have a C# programmer for decades... well, there is that difference of not being a billionaire, but I digress. I loved Melinda’s book and how real you are being and how you are helping the world the right ways.

I always find your thoughts very insightful and I wish more would listen to you

I have read four on this list and was thinking of reading three more. The two new ones I have not heard before and are added to my list are Good Economics For Hard Times (very timely), and The Best We Could Do, as I have been developing a great appreciation for autobiographical graphic novels.

The Martian and What If are among my favorites.

message 4: by Nancy (new)

Nancy I suggest adding How the South Won the Civil War by Heather Cox Richardson to your pile.

message 5: by Dorine (new)

Dorine Heller What an eclectic reading list, definitely trust your judgment, thanks! Stay safe

message 6: by Irma (new)

Irma Thank you for sharing your recommendations - I have added several to my list!

message 7: by Theresa (new)

Theresa The Great Influenza is on my list to read soon. I read The Martian a year or two ago and loved it. It was so funny:)

message 8: by La (new)

La Donna Thanks for sharing! I am current listening to Great Influenza and reading Gentleman in Moscow. The Rosie Project is one of my favorites!

message 9: by Evan (new)

Evan The reading recommendations of a monopolist who stifled technical innovation and forced everyone to waste countless hours of their lives trying to get his shitty software to work? No thanks.

message 10: by Erik (new)

Erik Heter Evan wrote: "The reading recommendations of a monopolist who stifled technical innovation and forced everyone to waste countless hours of their lives trying to get his shitty software to work? No thanks."

Spot on.

Threadwinner. ;)

message 11: by Jo (new)

Jo I’ve read half of this list. The other half is now on my want-to-read shelf. Thanks!

message 12: by Haleem (new)

Haleem H. Witwit Many Thanks for sharing

message 13: by KWilks (new)

KWilks I listened to the audiobook version of The Choice read by the author. For such a sad and afflicted life it was a delightful , inspiring story of the power of our mind, thoughts, intentions and determination. I truly enjoyed it.
I have added the Rosie Project to my list. I currently work at Rutgers University School of Social Work for the Institute for Families. My field specialty is child development. One of the best and favorite jobs I have had was a para-professional at a middle school. I was a personal aide for a 10 year old boy with Asperger’s who brought such joy, love and fulfillment into my life.

message 14: by Pénélope (new)

Pénélope Roy Dubé Thank you!!!!!

message 15: by Shalini (new)

Shalini Thank you for the recommendations. I have added several to my list. Oh, and the parts of How To that I read are hilarious. I highly recommend it.

message 16: by Andy (new)

Andy Willard another recommendation for the martian...groundbreaking

message 17: by John (new)

John Demarco Unsurprisingly, not a very original or 'outside the box' reading list. Clearly reveals Mr. Gates as a very average mind that prefers solidifying its perspective rather than expanding it.

message 18: by AliceC09 (new)

AliceC09 Thank you for the recommendations, Mr. Gates! I also enjoy Randall Munroe's books. Earlier this year I read "How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems". I found it to be a funny and fascinating examination of every day problems. I hope you can get it off the "to read" shelf soon and dive into it! It provides some light-hearted distraction from the much bigger problems in the world today.

message 19: by Shane (new)

Shane McMinn Do your research on Bill Gates as it's all out there...he doesn't deserve to be given the time of day.

message 20: by Fujie (new)

Fujie Gao Thanks for your recommendation! I marked some of the books as Want to Read List.

message 21: by Laura (new)

Laura Bill, your reading recommendations, your relationship with Melinda, and your work together in your foundation have permanently and dramatically improved my life—shifting my thinking and giving me targets to strive for along with the courage to do so. Thank you for doing the hard work of learning to think and act clearly, effectively, and with integrity, and for continuing, despite obstacles, to share what you learn with the world.

message 22: by Tamer (new)

Tamer Tawfik is it available as a Goodreads list?

message 23: by Anthony (new)

Anthony i couldn't care less

message 24: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer C Some interesting reads on here I wouldn't ordinarily have taken up - thanks for that insight. I suggest you read (pandemic-wise) Geraldine Brooks, one of the US's best-ever writers, who nails this in Year of Wonders. Just finished while escaping the pandemic out of Sydney, Australia into the Blue Mountains World Heritage Park, and it's a fabulous read. Should have known - People of the Book was fab too!

message 25: by NadaCambia (new)

NadaCambia La wrote: "Thanks for sharing! I am current listening to Great Influenza and reading Gentleman in Moscow. The Rosie Project is one of my favorites!"
*tips fedora*

message 26: by Webalon (new)

Webalon Who cares what Bill Gates reads?

message 27: by Sinisha (new)

Sinisha Shane wrote: "Do your research on Bill Gates as it's all out there...he doesn't deserve to be given the time of day."

Coming from a mystic charlatan author like yourself, that is humorous indeed.

Tell me - what secrets have you channeled from the Solar System regarding Bill Gates?

message 28: by Theresa (new)

Theresa Anthony wrote: "i couldn't care less"

Then why waste your time even reading this or commenting?

message 29: by Webalon (new)

Webalon The lady (and gentleman) doth protest too much, methinks

message 30: by Webalon (new)

Webalon Hahaha!!! Love it!!! But seriously I really did not mean to Upset you by expressing that I do not care what Bill Gates reads....if I did hurt your feelings I’m sorry

message 31: by Astrid (last edited May 21, 2020 04:03AM) (new)

Astrid Galactic Evan wrote: "The reading recommendations of a monopolist who stifled technical innovation and forced everyone to waste countless hours of their lives trying to get his shitty software to work? No thanks."

I so wish there were Like buttons on comments.

Also, I often wonder how many of such lists are what they want you to 'think' they are reading rather than what they are actually reading. Especially from such very high profile people. Did he go over this list with his publicist? A lot of good selections but I never, ever truly trust that these are what you'll find on their currently reading tables. At least the books get a push.

Yes, I can be extremely cynical. Too many veils have been removed.

message 32: by Biju (new)

Biju Vasudevan Some of you guys should try out The Molecular Slaves by yours truly to really understand what radically different means.

message 33: by SallyScrive (new)

SallyScrive Thank you for sharing. Adding some books to my "Want to Read" shelf :)

message 34: by Dario (new)

Dario Thanks for sharing, hope to read some of these soon!

message 35: by Rhoda (new)

Rhoda Anthony wrote: "i couldn't care less"Agreed!

message 36: by 📚Linda (new)

📚Linda Blake I was interested in your comment about graphic novels. We have a collection of these at our university library. We have forward thinking librarian who started buying them years ago. My life has been changed by these: The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames, Here by Richard McGuire, March by John Lewis, and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Thanks for your list.

message 37: by [deleted user] (new)

Still haven't gotten to "A Man From Moscow" by Amor Towles. I hope to read it soon. I like the book about "memory." My memory is awful. The hints would help. "Cloud Atlas?" I'm afraid. Will peek at it.

message 38: by Michael (new)

Michael Peeples I've read books recommended by Bill Gates before and either it's my bad luck or his bad choices, but I've never read one I like. Right now, I don't trust his list. Maybe I will in the future.

message 39: by Wendy (new)

Wendy Coffin Evan wrote: "The reading recommendations of a monopolist who stifled technical innovation and forced everyone to waste countless hours of their lives trying to get his shitty software to work? No thanks."

Perfectly said!

message 40: by Maggie (new)

Maggie “In the very end, civilizations perish because they listen to their politicians and not to their poets.” ― Jonas Mekas

message 41: by Richard (new)

Richard C Great reads - sometimes! Two books I found were Til Death Do Us Part and The Day Always Comes by Richard Osborn Short chapters, names you can pronounce, and surprise endings. Quick reading and entertaining. Check out his website at

message 42: by Nayelipelaez (new)

Nayelipelaez Me encanta😍

message 43: by Nikki (new)

Nikki I read Moonwalking with Einstein five years ago and found myself surprised by how interesting and engaging the author portrayed this subject. I shy away from nonfiction because I often find it to be very dry and I can't connect - this book is one of my examples on how nonfiction should be written!

message 44: by David Patrick (last edited May 21, 2020 07:07AM) (new)

David Patrick Sally This 'man' should be in prison.

message 45: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Great choices! :)

Aw man I wish I was a billionaire so I could get pristine hardback copies of books I love and then have my picture taken with them.

message 46: by David (new)

David Sanford "If My Heart Could Talk and Other Poems" by David Sanford is another great choice for summer. It depicts experiences of a person living with a congenital heart defect after undergoing five heart surgeries and eventually graduating college. He's tried to market his name and work for over 2 years now with decent success. He wants to share his story to show people heart patient's lives are important too and deserve to be read. Hope someone gives his poetry a chance and finds solace and strength in his words.

message 47: by Mark (new)

Mark Honestly, who cares what Bill Gates reads?

message 48: by Eric (new)

Eric Brown Had not heard of "The Choice". Sounds amazing. Adding it to my reading list for the year. Leaders are readers!

message 49: by Penny (new)

Penny You might like Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga by Rolf Gates. One short reading a day.

message 50: by Jamako (new)

Jamako Jeez. The crackpots have even invaded the Goodreads comment section :/

Is there no tinfoil hat free zone anywhere on the web?

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