5 Books Bill Gates Says You Should Read Over The Holidays

From David Foster Wallace on tennis to sly statement about Trump, some great reading recommendations (or gift ideas) from the world’s leading philanthropist.

5 Books Bill Gates Says You Should Read Over The Holidays
[Photo: Michael Gottschalk/Photothek/Getty Images]

When he’s not eradicating polio and pushing his billionaire friends to give away their fortunes, Bill Gates is reading interesting books and telling the world about it. His book-advisory lists, released every summer and winter, are now part of the season: intellectual celebrations to go with the holiday celebrations (and perhaps a good gift idea!). Below are Gates’s five new choices. His summer reading list was posted here.


String Theory, by David Foster Wallace.

Gates says he was put off reading David Foster Wallace because of the late author’s length (Infinite Jest is 1,079 pages), but came around after seeing “The End of the Tour,” a road-trip movie featuring Wallace. Here he picks a collection of tennis-themed essays because Gates loves tennis just like Wallace did. “Wallace’s ability to use language is mind-blowing. He’s an artist who approaches a canvas with the exact same oil paints everyone before him has used and then applies them in breathtaking new and creative ways,” Gates says.

Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight.

Gates picks Shoe Dog–Nike founder Phil Knight’s memoir–partly to make a point. Most books about entrepreneurs are too linear and straightforward, he says. They brush over the mistakes and personal flaws, and illuminate only the prescience or skill of the protagonist. By contrast, Knight’s book is “a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like. It’s a messy, perilous, and chaotic journey riddled with mistakes, endless struggles, and sacrifice.”

The Gene, by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Gates’s lists default to exciting science and there’s plenty of that here with Mukherjee’s book The Gene. The author explains how gene mapping and editing techniques could one day cure diseases (such as single gene disorders like cystic fibrosis), but also how gene therapies could open up a hornet’s nest of ethical issues. Should we be repairing eggs and sperm to save people from future diseases? “Technology is amoral,” Gates says. “It is up to all of think hard about these new technologies and how they should and should not be used.” (See Gates interview Mukherjee, a New York-based cancer doctor, below).


The Myth of the Strong Leader, by Archie Brown.

Gates surely picked Archie Brown’s Myth of the Strong Leader to make a point about our soon-to-be-president and the pitfalls of equating bullying and bombast with competence and effectiveness. “Brown does a wonderful job of showing how the same qualities that seem so appealing in strong leaders can lead, in the mildest cases, to bad decisions—and, in the most extreme cases, to death and suffering on a massive scale,” Gates says. Generally, we overestimate the capacity of single leaders to fix complex systems. Gates says his foundation’s success with polio proves the point. It takes a village.

The Grid, by Gretchen Bakke.

Gates is sometimes criticized for only picking books by men. So it’s a minuscule improvement that, after four male authors, he gives some limelight to Gretchen Bakke, author The Grid (though Gates only gives her an “honorable mention”). Bakke shows that our electricity system is both an engineering wonder and seriously in need of repair, and reform. You will “come to see why modernizing the grid is so complex and so critical for building our clean-energy future,” Gates says.

See the full list here.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.