In these days of social distancing, many of us are spending more time at home reading than we usually do. So it's especially handy that Bill Gates has just published his annual summer reading list of five books he recommends to everyone.
This year's list is geared to the times, with one book that explores and explains the previous worldwide pandemic, one that tells us how businesses and governments can deal with economic hard times, and one that teaches us how to recover from even the worst traumas.
Here are Gates's five summer reading recommendations, and why he chose them:
"This book is partly a memoir and partly a guide to processing trauma," Gates writes. He says that he read the book on Melinda Gates's recommendation and he's glad he did. What makes the book exceptional, he says, is Eger, a Holocaust survivor who became a professional therapist. "That combination gives her fascinating insight into how people heal," he writes.
Eger was taken to Auschwitz at 16, where she was separated from her parents whom she never saw again. Even after the camp was liberated, she faced some harrowing events before she finally married, moved to the United States, and became a therapist specializing in trauma. You might guess that the hardships she's lived through make things like getting laid off or having to live under stay-at-home seem like trivial problems to Eger. But she says there is no "hierarchy of suffering." Early in the book, she describes a patient weeping because her new Cadillac is the wrong shade of yellow -- grief that Eger writes is the misplaced expression of other traumas and as deserving of compassion as any other. Here's Gates's full review.
"This is the kind of novel you'll think and talk about for a long time after you finish it," Gates writes. It's the only novel on his recommendation list, and -- fair warning -- it's not the easiest read. While some readers call it "transcendent," others say it's frustrating, and as Gates explains, it has a "nested" structure of interlocking stories where you jump from one to another just as a dramatic moment is playing out, sometimes in mid-sentence. "Reading it is a bit like putting a puzzle together," writes Gates. He also says he's hoping to get Melinda or someone else to read it so he can discuss it. Here's Gates's full review.
Gates says he rarely recommends business books because they never quite capture what running a business is like, but this book is an exception. "Iger does a terrific job explaining what it's really like to be the CEO of a large company," Gates writes (and of course, he would know).
But even if you're not trying to learn about business, or about Disney, it's an entertaining read, he says. "I think anyone would enjoy his stories about overseeing Disney during one of the most transformative times in its history." Here's Gates's full review.
"We're living through an unprecedented time right now," Gates writes. "But if you're looking for a historical comparison, the 1918 influenza pandemic is as close as you're going to get."
The 1918 pandemic was caused by an influenza virus, which is literally a different creature from a coronavirus. It resulted in a higher mortality rate than appears to be the case with Covid-19. And, of course, nearly everything about today's world, from medical science to the availability of intercontinental air travel to the existence of the internet and social media, is different from how things were in 1918. But, Gates writes, "We're still dealing with many of the same challenges." Here's his full review.
Banerjee and Duflo, who are married, shared the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel last year with one of their economist colleagues, Harvard's Michael Kremer. (As Gates points out, what people routinely call the "Nobel Prize in Economics" actually has a different name and was added in 1968 to the original group of Nobel Prize categories.)
The book, which explains economic concepts in a very readable way for lay people, was completed long before the new coronavirus outbreak, so it doesn't address the pandemic or its economic consequences. But it does provide a data-driven look at how government policies affect things like unemployment and tax cuts affect economies on the macro level. "Their research is not hard science like chemistry or physics," Gates writes. "But I found most of it to be useful and compelling. I suspect you will too." Here's his full review.