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5 books Bill Gates recommends for holiday gifting

From CRISPR to brains to robots to Shakespeare, here’s what the philanthropist has read recently.

5 books Bill Gates recommends for holiday gifting

When he isn’t trying to find solutions for climate change or end malaria or prevent the next pandemic, Bill Gates reads—and regularly shares his favorites with the public. If you’re looking for something to read over the holidays, or a good gift, here’s Gates’s latest list of his top picks for what to read next.

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[Image: Simon & Schuster]
The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, by Walter Isaacson

In 2012, the biochemist Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues discovered the CRISPR tool, a form of “genetic scissors” that transformed the science of gene editing. Walter Isaacson’s book tells the story of that scientific discovery, and explains both the promise and the ethical challenges, including the fact that a Chinese scientist used the technology to edit the genomes of two human embryos—against accepted scientific practice—and those children, now toddlers, will later be able to pass on those altered genes. The Gates Foundation has funded several projects that use CRISPR, from plants edited to survive climate change to antibodies that could kill the pathogens that cause malaria or AIDS, so Gates is very familiar with the technology, but says that he still learned from the book.

[Image: Basic Books]
A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence, by Jeff Hawkins

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“Of all the subjects I’ve been learning about lately, one stands out for its mind-boggling complexity: understanding how the cells and connections in our brains give rise to consciousness and our ability to learn,” Gates writes. A new book by tech entrepreneur Jeff Hawkins, one of the coinventors of the Palm Pilot, talks about how better understanding the brain could develop artificial general intelligence, or the ability of AI to learn and understand any task that humans can.

[Image: PenguinRandomHouse]
Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro

“I love a good robot story,” Gates writes. Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel tells the story of a robot named Klara, programmed for empathy, who acts as an “artificial friend” to a sick child. The book, in first person, is told from the robot’s perspective. Gates notes that work is already happening on companion robots, particularly as a way to help alleviate loneliness for older people. Robots will be an important part of the future, he predicts, and fiction can help us explore and understand what that should look like.

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[Image: PenguinRandomHouse]
Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction this year, starts from a fact about William Shakespeare—a couple of years before he wrote Hamlet, his own 11-year-old son, Hamnet, died. Without mentioning the name Shakespeare, O’Farrell explores how the days before Hamnet’s death might have influenced the play. “Hamnet is ultimately a story about how the death of a son haunts his parents, while Hamlet is a tale about how the death of a parent haunts his son,” Gates writes. “O’Farrell cleverly ties the two together and offers a moving explanation for how Shakespeare channeled his grief and guilt into writing. She makes me want to go back and reread the play.”

[Image: PenguinRandomHouse]
Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir

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Weir, the author of The Martian, has a new sci-fi novel out about a high school science teacher who wakes up in a different star system. Gates, who has always loved science fiction, says that he can’t explain what he loved about the book without spoilers, but promises that it’s entertaining. “I started it on a Saturday and finished it on Sunday, and it was a great way to spend a weekend,” he says.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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