If Bill Gates has time to pick up a book in between trying to end malaria and convincing fellow billionaires to give away their riches, the rest of us probably do, too. Escape from your family over the holidays by burying your nose in some fascinating reads in science, technology, and innovation. Here is Gates’s list of the best books he read this year. Below, we’ve picked out a few highlights.
Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, by Randall Munroe
In this book, the cartoonist behind the brilliant xkcd uses only the most 1,000 most common words in English to try explain how things work, on topics ranging from nuclear power to continental drift. (The International Space Station is the “shared space house.”) “Munroe’s jokes are laugh-out-loud funny,” Gates writes. “This is a wonderful guide for curious minds.” (Gates is clearly a Munroe fan, judging from his list last summer.)
Sustainable Materials With Both Eyes Open, by Julian M. Allwood, Jonathan M. Cullen, et al.
University of Cambridge researchers look at the most common materials in the world–like steel and aluminum–and how changing out these materials could cut carbon emissions as much as 50%. “Although the topic can be dry as a desert, the authors keep it light with lots of colorful illustrations and clever analogies without sacrificing clarity or rigor,” Gates writes on his blog.
Eradication: Ridding the World of Diseases Forever?, by Nancy Leys Stepan
In 1980, when Bill Gates heard that smallpox was eradicated, he says he didn’t pay much attention. Later, he really started thinking about what it takes to wipe a disease from the face of the earth and realized what a major accomplishment it was. Gates says of this book: “It gives you a good sense of how involved the effort to eradicate a disease can get, how many different kinds of approaches have been tried without success, and how much we’ve learned from our failures. The book is fairly academic, but worth a read if you’re interested in the topic.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck
How do you think about your skills–are you innately talented, or do you think you can grow? This classic from 2006 lays out how your attitude about learning can make it more or less likely that you’ll succeed. Gates lists it as something that has had an important influence on his foundation’s work on education. “The value of this book extends way beyond the world of education. It’s just as relevant for businesspeople who want to cultivate talent and for parents who want to raise their kids to thrive on challenge,” he writes.