How Bill Gates remembers what he reads

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Bill Gates is a voracious reader. In conversation with him, it’s striking how frequently he cites things he’s read. So he doesn’t just read a lot of books, but he remembers what he reads as well.

We recently asked Gates how he does it, and he has a very specific approach, as you can see in the video above.

To start, Gates recommends getting a comprehensive overview of a topic, so that you can then understand where various details you might read fit in. Gates explains:

If you have a broad framework, then you have a place to put everything. So you have the timeline, or you have the map, or you have the branches of science and what’s known and what’s not known. And so, incremental knowledge is so much easier to maintain in a rich way than, you know, the first time somebody is telling you about Rome. Why am I reading about Rome? Why am I reading about Queen Victoria?

He recommends, for example, reading the history of scientists if you want to learn science and understand how knowledge evolved and fits together. In this vein, he has backed a program called Big History, a free online social studies course that promises to provide “a framework for all knowledge.”

“Getting kids a sense of how it all fits in early on will make it less, ‘Hey, there’s just a bunch of random stuff here that I don’t know where to put it in my head,'” Gates says.

If you’re interested in Gates’ reading habits, you can watch an earlier conversation we had with him below about how he reads.

Quartz last year compiled all of the public book recommendations from Gates over the previous eight years. We also wrote about his favorite books from 2018.

Find other clips from our full interview with Bill Gates here: