Aaron Hicklin of the excellent website One Grand Books recently asked Bill Gates what books he want if marooned on a desert island.

Gates didn't fully accept the premise, but did provide a list of books that he's reading, which would therefore be with him, de-facto, were he suddenly marooned.

I've published  Gates's book lists in the past and have found his choices to be often wistful and idiosyncratic. 

Apparently Gates has gotten into a more serious mood, because his current list (minus two novels) is very much concerned what's happening in the world today:

BUSINESS

1. Business Adventures

Subtitle: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street

Author: John Brooks

5 Second Summary: A set of classic case studies about the machinations and volatile nature of the world of finance, each representative of how human nature affects decision-making regardless of when those decisions are made.

Best Quote: The stock market-the daytime adventure serial of the well to do-would not be the stock market if it did not have its ups and downs. Any board-room sitter with a taste for Wall Street lore has heard of the retort that JP Morgan the Elder is supposed made to a naïve acquaintance who ventured to ask the great man what the market was going to do. "It will fluctuate," replied Morgan dryly. And it has many other distinctive characteristics. Apart from the economic advantages and disadvantages of stock exchanges-the advantage that they provide a free flow capital to finance industrial expansion, for instance, and the disadvantage that they provide an all too convenient way for the unlucky, the imprudent, and the gullible to lose their money-their development has created a whole pattern of social behavior, complete with customs, language, and predictable responses to given events."

2. The Power to Compete

Subtitle: An Economist and an Entrepreneur on Revitalizing Japan in the Global Economy

Author: Hiroshi Mikitani and Ryoichi Mikitani

5 Second Summary: Argues that Japan's tendency to shun international frameworks and hide from global realities is the root cause of Japan's seemingly endless economic stagnation and analyzes current efforts underway to enhance Japan's competitiveness.

Best Quote: "Japanese companies are responsible for the current state of affairs, the biggest reason behind these developments is the inadequacy of their managers. If Japanese companies work to appoint the best people available-people who have accumulated a variety of experiences on the global stage-then they would be able to raise their competitiveness. In reality, however, under the lifetime employment system, homegrown employees are promoted to managerial positions based on age rather than skill or global experience."

PUBLIC POLICY

3. Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air

Author: David JC MacKay

5 Second Summary: Analyzes the relevant numbers on sustainable energy and organizes a plan for change on both a personal level and an international scale, while answering questions surrounding nuclear energy, the potential of sustainable fossil fuels, and the possibilities of sharing renewable power with foreign countries.

Best Quote: "Where numbers are used, their meaning is often obfuscated by enormousness. Numbers are chosen to impress, to score points and arguments, rather than to inform. 'Los Angeles residents drive 142 million miles-the distance from Earth to Mars-every single day.' 'Each year, 27 million acres of tropical rain forest are destroyed.' '14 billion pounds of trash are dumped into the sea every year.' 'British people throw away 2.6 billion slices of bread per year.' 'The waste paper buried each year in the UK could fill 103,448 double-decker buses.' The result of this lack of meaningful members and facts? We are inundated with a flood of crazy innumerate codswallop. The BBC dulls out advice on how we can do our bit to save the planet. For example: 'Switch off your mobile phone charger when it's not in use.' If anyone objects that mobile phone chargers are not actually our number one form of energy consumption, the mantra 'every little bit helps' is wheeled out.  Every little bit helps? A more realistic mantra is 'if everyone does a little, we'll achieve only a little.'"

4. The Better Angels of Our Nature

Subtitle: Why Violence Has Declined

Author: Steven Pinker

5 Second Summary: Through an exploration of the essence of human nature and an examination of psychology and history, this book shows that despite the ceaseless news about war, crime, and terrorism, violence has actually been in decline over long stretches of history.

Best Quote: "For all the dangers we face today, the dangers of yesterday were even worse. Readers of this book (and as we shall see, people in most of the rest of the world) no longer have to worry about abduction into sexual slavery, divinely commanded genocide, lethal circuses and tournaments, punishment on the cross, rack, wheel, stake, or strappado for holding unpopular beliefs, decapitation for not bearing a son, disembowelment for having dated a royal, pistol duels to defend their honor, beachside fisticuffs to impress their girlfriends, and the prospect of a nuclear world war that would put an end to civilization or to human life itself."

SCIENCE

5. Sapiens

Subtitle: A Brief History of Humankind

Author: Yuval Noah Harari

5 Second Summary: Integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of human evolution and our recently-acquired ability to bend laws of natural selection.

Best Quote: "Despite the astonishing things that humans are capable of doing, we remain unsure of our goals and we seem to be as discontented as ever. We have advanced from canoes to galleys to steamships to space shuttles--but nobody knows where we're going. We are more powerful than ever before, but have very little idea what to do with all that power. Worse still, humans seem to be more irresponsible than ever. Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one. We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction. Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don't know what they want?"

6. The Vital Question

Subtitle: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life

Author: Nick Lane

5 Second Summary: Draws on cutting-edge research into the link between energy and cell biology to deliver a compelling account of evolution from the very origins of life to the emergence of multicellular organisms, while offering deep insights into our own lives.

Best Quote: "We do not know why life is the way it is. All complex life on earth shares a common ancestor, a cell that arose from simple bacterial progenitors on just one occasion in 4 billion years. Was this a freak accident, or did other 'experiments' in the evolution of complexity fail? We don't know. We do know at this common ancestor was already a very complex cell. It had more or less the same sophistication as one of your cells, and passed this great complexity on not just to you and me but to all its descendants, from trees to bees."

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

7. How Not to Be Wrong

Subtitle: The Power of Mathematical Thinking

Author: Jordan Ellenberg

5 Second Summary: Shows how to apply mathematical analysis to a wide range of sitautions, including baseball, Reaganomics, lotteries, psychology, painting, artificial languages, non-Euclidean geometry, slime molds, Facebook and the existence of God.

Best Quote: "You probably already are doing math, even if you don't call it that. Math is woven into the way we reason.  And math makes you better at things. Knowing mathematics is like wearing a pair of X-ray specs reveal hidden structures underneath the messy and chaotic surface of the world. Math is a science of not being wrong about things, its techniques and habits hammered out by centuries of hard work and argument. With the tools of mathematics in hand, you can understand the world in a deeper, sounder and more meaningful way."

8. Parenting with Love and Logic

Author: Foster Cline and Jim Fay

5 Second Summary: Shows how to raise self-confident, motivated children who are ready for the real world and how to parent effectively and teach responsibility without anger, threats, nagging, or power struggles.

Best Quote: "Parents send messages to their children about what they think their kids are capable of. Message the helicopter parent sends is, ' you are fragile and can't make it without me.'  The drill sergeant's message is, ' you can't think for yourself so I'll do it for you.'  While both of these parental types may successfully control their children in the early years, they will have done their kids a disservice once puberty is reached. Helicopter children become adolescents unable to cope with outside forces, think for themselves, or handle their own problems. Drill sergeant kids, who did a lot of saluting when they were young, will do a lot of saluting with teenagers, but the salute is different: a raised fist or a crude gesture involving the middle finger."

Published on: May 25, 2016
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