Bill Gates is a man of many monikers: Microsoft founder, tech expert, venture philanthropist, climate crusader, defeater of deadly diseases and scientific connoisseur. He’s also a voracious reader, and over the last few years, he’s recommended plenty of books to the public that he considers to be essential reading.
A few media outlets have recently highlighted some of the science books he’s given two thumbs up to, so we thought we’d highlight a few more than they might have missed. So, in no particular order, here are a handful of the science-flavored tomes that he considers to be more than worth your time. Seven books for 2017!
1 - I Contain Multitudes, by Ed Yong
A revelatory account of the discovery and the evolution of our understanding of the microbiome. Explaining why the human body is only half-composed of human cells, and elucidating why bacteria, viruses, and archaea influence everything, from our health to our behavior, it is a tour de force of a rapidly advancing scientific field – and Bill Gates recently sat down with the author to discuss it.
Yong and Gates on microbes. thegatesnotes via YouTube
2 – Sapiens, by Noah Yuval Harari
The entire evolutionary history of the human species boiled down to just 400 pages, featuring insights about the distant past as well as the potential futures it may experience. Gates says that although he doesn’t agree with some of the ambiguous claims made in the book – such as the idea that humans were better off before farming – he says that it’s a highly recommended read nevertheless.
3 – The Vital Question, by Nick Lane
Exploring the connection between life and energy, this is more than just a speculative piece of literature – it delves into scientific evidence exploring links between the powerhouses of our cells and disease. Gates explains that the author “is one of those original thinkers who make you say, ‘more people should know about this guy’s work.’
4 – The Better Angels of our Nature, by Steven Pinker
A peon to optimism grounded in cold hard facts, this was recently suggested by Gates to be the one book that every graduate in the class of 2017 should get a copy of. Describing it as the “most inspiring book” he’s ever read, the author uses cutting-edge data to explain why the world is getting better, despite what you see in the news and what you might think.
5 – The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert
A Pulitzer Prize-winning book, it details how humanity is bringing about the latest mass extinction is Earth’s history, and explains how it is set to be one of the most extreme. Infusing the history of this man-made event with her own personal adventures in the field with some of the world’s top scientists, this is a grimly fascinating insight to what’s amounting to be an act of reckless self-destruction.
Kolbert on The Sixth Extinction. OSU via YouTube
6 – The Man Who Fed the World, by Leon Hesser
An exploration of the life and work of Dr. Normal Borlaug, a man credited with saving over a billion people from dying of starvation. An agronomist and humanitarian who greatly contributed towards the Green Revolution in agriculture, it’s not difficult to see why Gates recommends this book.
7 – The Bet, by Paul Sabin
A thrilling recount of how an economist and a biologist made a wager over the future prices of just five key metals. Their bet was driven by their own backgrounds and outlooks on humanity’s future, with the former arguing optimistically that collective ingenuity and technological change would allow human welfare to flourish, whereas the latter suspected that rising populations would lead to overconsumption, famine and resource depletion.
Is humanity heading for a catastrophe or a golden age? It’s up to all of us to decide, in the end, but we suspect we know which side Gates would fall on.