This article first appeared in The National Book Review
It's Best Books of the Year season, and the Internet is awash in book lists -- The New York Times's 10 Best Books. Amazon's Best Books of 2015, The London Evening Standard's 10 Best Cookery Books of 2015. That's all well and good, you may be saying -- but what books does Microsoft founder and world's richest man Bill Gates recommend?
Well, you're in luck. Gates has told us, in a recent entry on his blog, gatesnotes. The list (6 main choices, and an honorable mention) comes with links to brief essays by Gates about each of his main choices. There is also a slickly produced video narrated by the tech titan himself, in which he opens a vintage suitcase containing his favorite books, and wields a variety of props, including a model brain for a book on thinking.
Gates's list includes a couple of this year's well-known bestsellers -- Evan Thomas's Being Nixon: A Man Divided and David Brooks's The Road to Character -- and several excellent science books. We could quibble over some of the choices (Brooks wouldn't make our top 6 or 7), or about the narrow focus in subject matter. (Gates notes that he observed a pattern in his book choices this year: "A lot of them touch on a theme that I would call 'how things work.'") And as one commenter on the blog post asked: "I'm curious, do you ever read any fiction . . .?"
But all in all, Gate's list is an admirable one -- tailored to one man's interests. In a world in which books have to fight more than ever for "mind share," as the branding folks say -- in significant part because of some of the products Microsoft has brought to market -- it's great to see Gates reading serious books, recommending them to others. And writing book reviews.