As one of Inc.com's resident word nerds, I often find myself writing up Bill Gates's book recommendations. The recently divorced Microsoft founder is an avid reader and, through his blog Gates Notes, regularly recommends everything from page turner novels to heart-breaking memoirs to hard-hitting reporting on contemporary issues.
They also often feature books by Gates's favorite author, Vaclav Smil. But while Gates is open about his huge admiration for the Czech-Canadian expert on economics and energy, he also often offers a disclaimer when he cites his books, explaining Smil's work is "not for everyone" and can "read like a textbook or engineering manual."
Smil, in general, is far from good beach reading. But according to Gates's latest recommendation that changed with Smil's latest, Numbers Don't Lie: 71 Things You Need to Know About the World. The book "takes everything that makes his writing great and boils it down into an easy-to-read format. I unabashedly recommend this book to anyone who loves learning," Gates gushes in his post recommending the title.
Fun beach reading that will also make you smarter.
The charm of Smil's latest book, Gates insists, is that it's just as insightful and information heavy as his earlier work, but in a much easier to digest format. As the title suggests, the book is broken down into short chapters, each of which explains a key fact about the world and uses it as a jumping off point to dig into some fascinating aspect of how the world works. Gates offers three examples:
The link between sweat and brain size: "Humans are the grand champions of sweating. We're able to remove heat from our bodies through perspiration better than any other mammal. ... Our ancestors had better endurance than the animals they hunted for food, which allowed them to run down rich sources of protein that provided the fuel for our brains to develop."
The French are drinking less wine: "In 1926, the average French person drank an impressive 136 liters of wine (or more than 35 gallons). But by 2020, that figure had shrunk to just 40 liters. ... Does that mean the French are becoming more health conscious? Was life just so bleak in the 1920s that people had to drink? Have people replaced drinking wine with other diversions like watching TV or browsing the web? I love how this book forces you to think about the story behind a seemingly niche statistic."
The 1880s massive tech boom: "Although it's tempting to see the era we're living in now as a time of unprecedented innovation, he argues that the 1880s saw the real technology boom. The decade saw the discovery of electricity and the internal combustion engine--along with somewhat less consequential but still important innovations like the ballpoint pen, the modern bicycle, and Coca-Cola."
Numbers Don't Lie is that rare book that's both easy to take in during your commute or between swims on a beach somewhere and that will leave you wildly smarter than when you sat down with it. In short it's an ideal book for anyone hoping to end August a bit smarter than when they started it, and Gates heartily recommends you pick it up.