For his annual list of book recommendations, Bill Gates reflected on several of the best works he came across in 2019. “December is a great time to take stock of everything you’ve done over the last twelve months—including all the books you’ve read,” he writes in a post unveiling his choices on Gates Notes.
The philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft selected titles that represent a wide range of subject matter, from the importance of sleep to an engrossing history of the United States, and all serve to help better our understanding of the world. The avid reader writes that the books he’s highlighting will “help wrap up your 2019 or start 2020 on a good note.” Here, the five books Bill Gates wants you to read this winter.
An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
The only work of fiction on Gates’ list delves into a very real issue: the heartbreaking consequences of unjust incarceration. Tayari Jones‘ novel finds the lives of newlyweds Celestial and Roy upended after Roy is sent to prison for a crime he did not commit. In the years that follow, Roy’s time spent behind bars completely changes their marriage. “An American Marriage is a deeply moving read about how one incident of injustice reshapes the lives of a black couple in the South,” Gates writes. Though he wouldn’t characterize the novel as a light read, Gates calls it “so well-written that you’ll find yourself sucked into it despite the heavy subject matter.”
These Truths: A History of the United States, Jill Lepore
Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore compiles a comprehensive account of American history, covering centuries of major events and their impact in less than a thousand pages. These Truths explores the country’s values—and their contradictions—most notably highlighting the United States’ founding principle of liberty and its practice of slavery. “I loved the book and hope lots of people read it,” Gates writes. “In keeping with its title, it’s the most honest account of the American story I’ve ever read, and one of the most beautifully written.”
Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities, Vaclav Smil
How do particles, people and plans grow? Czech-Canadian professor Vaclav Smil uses his scientific lens to examine growth on a variety of scales, from how food is produced to the expansion of major cities. Gates warns readers that the first chapter includes a lot of technical language, but encourages them to stick with the book, which becomes “easier to follow.” Through reading Growth, he gained a deeper understanding of how modern civilization works. “The book gave me a new appreciation for how many smart people had to try things out, make mistakes, and eventually succeed,” he writes.
Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life, Diane Tavenner
In 2003, educator Diane Tavenner co-founded the first Summit Public School, a new type of charter school which aimed to teach students the skills they needed not just to get into college, but also to succeed in the real world. Gates visited a Summit school several years ago and was “blown away” by his experience there. In Prepared, Tavenner explains the philosophies on which her schools are built: self-directed learning, project-based learning and mentoring. “Preparing our kids for college, a career, and life is a long journey,” Gates writes. “Diane has written a wonderful guidebook to help all of us make the most of the adventure.”
Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, Matthew Walker
After reading Why We Sleep, Gates realized that the all-nighters he used to pull in his early days at Microsoft “took a big toll.” The book breaks down how sleep relates to mental and physical health as well as creativity and problem-solving skills. Matthew Walker, the director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science, answers several common questions about sleep, like how much of it we need and how we can improve the sleep we’re getting. But, Gates writes, “in an effort to wake us all up to the harm of sleeping too little, [Walker] sometimes reports as fact what science has not yet clearly demonstrated.” Still, Gates reports that he learned “a lot about this basic activity that every person on Earth needs.”