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Frontlist | Bill Gates' list of “five good books for a lousy year.”

Frontlist | Bill Gates' list of “five good books for a lousy year.”
on Dec 09, 2020
Frontlist | Bill Gates' list of “five good books for a lousy year.”

Microsoft Founder Bill Gates is out with his 2020 book list, revealing Tuesday his choice of what he calls “five good books for a lousy year.” (Gates Notes)

This global thought leader says he chose these books because they encompass a variety of topics — some heavy and deep, some lighter as a change of pace — but all, he says are excellent reads and may help readers end 2020 on a good note.

No telling how many dozens of books this voracious reader consumed in this challenging pandemic span, but the five that made this year’s list encompass a revelation of why some of the world’s most successful people are generalists, rather than specialists; a deep dive into race and mass-incarceration in this country; a surprising lens on Winston Churchill during the early 1940s; the tale of a Russian spy whose work influenced the end of the Cold War, and an uplifting look at a difficult disease — cystic fibrosis.

Here are Gates' five curated tomes, each one comes with the endorsement of a leader who reads with an infinite curiosity:

  • “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander. “Like many white people,” Gates writes, I’ve tried to deepen my understanding of systemic racism in recent months. Alexander’s book offers an eye-opening look into how the criminal justice system unfairly targets communities of color and especially Black communities.... I finished the book more convinced than ever that we need a more just approach to sentencing and more investment in communities of color.”
  • “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” by David Epstein. Gates became a fan of this author after watching his 2014 TED talk on sports performance. “In this fascinating book,” Gates writes, “(Epstein) argues that although the world seems to demand more and more specialization — in your career, for example — what we actually need is more people 'who start broad and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives while they progress.’ ... I think his ideas even help explain some of Microsoft’s success, because we hired people who had real breadth within their field and across domains.”
  • “The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz” by Erik Larson. Gates points out in his review that sometimes history books seem more relevant to contemporary times than could have been imagined when they were written. “That’s the case,” he says, “with this brilliant account of the years 1940 and 1941, when English citizens spent almost every night huddled in basements and Tube stations as Germany tried to bomb them into submission. The fear and anxiety they felt — while much more severe than what we’re experiencing with Covid-19 — sounded familiar.”
  • “The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War” by Ben Macintyre. Gates refers to this one as a factual story that reads like a riveting spy novel. “This nonfiction account focuses on Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB officer who became a double agent for the British, and Aldrich Ames, the American turncoat who likely betrayed him.” Gates writes. “... It’s every bit as exciting as my favorite spy novels.”
  • “Breath From Salt: A Deadly Genetic Disease, a New Era in Science, and the Patients and Families Who Changed Medicine” by Bijal P. Trivedi. Gates says this book is uplifting. Inspirational. “It documents a story of remarkable scientific innovation and how it has improved the lives of almost all cystic fibrosis patients and their families,” Gates writes. “This story is especially meaningful to me because I know families who’ve benefited from the new medicines described in this book. I suspect we’ll see many more books like this in the coming years, as biomedical miracles emerge from labs at an ever-greater pace.”

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