Bill Gates unveils his 5 favorite books of 2016

Books about tennis and tennis shoes top the Microsoft co-founder's reading list.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, and generational studies Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
3 min read
Enlarge Image

Bill Gates poses with the 5 books he's recommending.


Microsoft and Gates Foundation co-founder Bill Gates fondly remembers reading through his parents' set of World Book Encyclopedias in alphabetical order when he was a child (his company would later publish a digital encyclopedia, Encarta, from 1993 to 2009).

Print encyclopedias are fading into the background, but Gates says in a GatesNotes blog post published Monday that he hasn't given up on the printed word.

"Reading books is my favorite way to learn about a new topic," Gates writes. "I've been reading about a book a week on average since I was a kid. Even when my schedule is out of control, I carve out a lot of time for reading."

In the blog post and accompanying video, Gates goes on to list and summarize his 5 favorite books he read in 2016. It also offers links to longer reviews of four of them.

"String Theory," a collection of five essays on tennis by the late David Foster Wallace, makes Gates' list, although he avoided tackling Foster Wallace's work for years. Gates says he himself gave up the sport back in his Microsoft days but is once again "pursuing it with a passion." He notes, "You don't have to play or even watch tennis to love this book."

From tennis to tennis shoes: Gates also lists a memoir by a fellow business titan, "Shoe Dog" by Nike's Phil Knight. Gates sees both similarities and differences between the two ways the men built their companies, noting, "What I identified most with from his story were the odd mix of employees Knight pulled together to help him start his company...Like Knight, we (at Microsoft) pulled together a group of people with weird sets of skills. They were problem solvers and people who shared a common passion to make the company a success."

If there's a winner on Gates' list for "most intimidating topic," it's "The Gene" by Siddhartha Mukherjee, a book about the past, present, and future of genome science. Gates shares a video of himself talking with the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and claims the book is more accessible than it may sound. "Like all good science writers, (Mukherjee) offers creative metaphors to explain difficult concepts," he says. "He is also a beautiful storyteller. He uses that talent to weave in his own family's history of mental illness, which I found incredibly touching."

In this politically charged year, Gates chose Archie Brown's "The Myth of the Strong Leader," which presents historical case studies to argue that the leaders who are perceived as bold and strong aren't as successful as those who collaborate and negotiate. And yes, there's a presidential parallel or two. "If you're dismayed at how rare it is for an American president to reshape our political or economic system, as many voters today seem to be," Gates writes, "consider that the last transformational American leader, in Brown's analysis, was Abraham Lincoln."

Finally, Gates gives an honorable-mention nod to Gretchen Bakke's "The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future." Says Gates, "This book, about our aging electrical grid, fits in one of my favorite genres: "Books About Mundane Stuff That Are Actually Fascinating."