Bill Gates recommends a lot of books. But for 2018, he has a short list of five, eclectic titles that he's suggesting you read. Or else, give them to someone else to read.
"I usually don't consider whether something would make a good present when I'm putting together my end-of-year book list--but this year's selections are highly giftable," he writes.
We'll examine all five books below. You can read his recommendations, or just watch his slightly surreal video (embedded at the end of this article), in which he drives around some kind of nursery or Christmas tree farm in a mid-1980s Jeep Cherokee, passing giant billboards with the covers of each book on them.
It's a little odd, but I guess Gates can pretty much do what he wants. (Even if that doesn't include running for president.)
Here are his five picks for 2018. I've only read one of these, so I'll be sure to check out the other four:
Educated by Tara Westover
This book, a memoir by Westover, tells the story of how she grew up in a Mormon survivalist household, never saw a doctor or the inside of a classroom until age 17, but wound up attending college and ultimately earning a PhD at Cambridge. The New York Times compared it to J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy, but said, "If Vance's memoir offered street-heroin-grade drama, Westover's is carfentanil, the stuff that tranquilizes elephants."
Gates interviewed Westover here. "Her ability to learn on her own blows mine right out of the water. I was thrilled to sit down with her recently to talk about the book," he said.
Army of None by Paul Scharre
Scharre was an officer in the U.S. Army who served multiple combat tours and later worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. His book is about autonomous weapons, which can choose and engage targets without human beings even being involved. (This is the one book on the list that I've read ... well, most of.)
"My first attempt to educate myself on autonomous weapons was a bust. I read a book that was dry and felt really outdated," Gates writes. "Then a few months ago I picked up Army of None. ... It's the book I had been waiting for. I can't recommend it highly enough."
Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
This one has been recommended all over the place, and as my colleague Jess Stillman recently reported, it was named best business book of the year.
"Carreyrou gives you the definitive insider's look at the rise and fall of Theranos. The story is even crazier than I expected, and I found myself unable to put it down once I started. This book has everything: elaborate scams, corporate intrigue, magazine cover stories, ruined family relationships, and the demise of a company once valued at nearly $10 billion," Gates says.
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
Harari is a professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and as Gates drives around in his Jeep, he remarks that Harari's main point in his latest book is that the world's biggest problems will require international answers.
"I'm a big fan of everything Harari has written, and his latest is no exception," Gates writes. "If 2018 has left you overwhelmed by the state of the world, 21 Lessons offers a helpful framework for processing the news and thinking about the challenges we face."
The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe
Here's an interesting side note: Gates says he's "a huge fan of TV shows like Narcos," and that his musical tastes run to "U2, Willie Nelson, and the Beatles." But when he was in his 20s, he quit watching television or listening to music for five years, as part of a plan to maintain focus.
It worked, apparently. (He says he was "monomaniacally focused" at Microsoft.) But what might have been easier, he now seems to believe, would have been to learn meditation, and devote about 10 minutes a day to it.
Oh, well. He now suggests reading this introductory book by Puddicombe, who is "the 46-year-old co-founder and voice of the popular Headspace app." He adds, "Andy has taken some heat from hardcore meditators for his low-barrier approach, but he got me to take up meditation and stick with it. I'm glad he did."