Americans are gearing up for summer vacation, which for Microsoft cofounder and famous bookworm Bill Gates means loading up the suitcase with books. The philanthropist and ardent reader has issued his annual summer reading list. This year his recommendations for beach reads touch on some of Gates’ favorite themes. They include two popular history books, a meditative novel on mortality, and a techno-utopian book about logic.
Here’s this year’s list, along with annotations from Gates’s site:
Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson (2017)
In this book from last year about the Renaissance artist and inventor, the bestselling biographer of Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein delved deeply into da Vinci’s contributions beyond art, highlighting the breadth of his scientific, technological, and creative output. Writes Gates:
More than any other Leonardo book I’ve read, this one helps you see him as a complete human being and understand just how special he was. He came close to understanding almost all of what was known on the planet at the time. That’s partly because scientific knowledge was relatively limited back then, partly because he had a high IQ, but mostly because he was insatiably curious about pretty much every area of natural science and the human experience.
Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, by Kate Bowler (2018)
A scholar of Christianity recounts in this memoir her philosophical questions and emotional reactions after being unexpectedly diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. Says Gates:
The central questions in this book really resonated with me. On one hand, it’s nihilistic to think that every outcome is simply random. I have to believe that the world is better when we act morally, and that people who do good things deserve a somewhat better fate on average than those who don’t. But if you take it to extremes, that cause-and-effect view can be hurtful.
Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders (2018)
Saunders, a long-time short story writer, received widespread acclaim for his first novel. The book, told from multiple points of view, imagines the ghosts that haunt the crypt of Willie Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s son, who died at age 11 in real life. Writes Gates:
Losing a child is unbearable for any parent, but Lincoln is also burdened by timing. Willie died less than a year after the Civil War started. The president has a new understanding of the grief he’s creating in other families by sending their sons off to die in battle. He must make a choice. Should the war go on?
Origin Story: A Big History of Everything, by David Christian (2018)
This new book, which will come out May 22, is by the creator of Big History, a free, online social studies course that he co-founded with Gates. The book traces history in wide, sweeping movements, starting with the Big Bang. Writes Gates:
The book ends with a chapter on where humanity—and the universe—is headed. David is more pessimistic about the future than I am. He gets a little stuck on the current economic and political malaise happening in the West, and I wish he talked more about the role innovation will play in preventing the worst effects of climate change.
Factfulness, by Hans Rosling, with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund (2018)
Rosling, the popular academic known for his quirky stats talks, died last year. Gates reviewed his book, cowritten by his son and daughter-in-law, which lays out ten instincts that lead us to distorted views about global trends based on bias instead of fact. In April Gates called it “one of the most educational books I’ve ever read.” Gates says:
[Rosling] refuses to judge anyone for their misconceptions. Most writers would beat people up for their ignorance, but he doesn’t. Hans even resists going after the media. Instead, he tells you about the history of his own ignorance. He explains that these instincts make us human, and that overcoming them isn’t easy. That’s classic Hans. He was always kind, often patient, and never judgmental.