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Bill Gates reveals his 5 favorite books of 2018

From a meditation guide to a memoir about life in a survivalist family, the Microsoft co-founder offers his reading recommendations.

You may not be able to dine or live like a billionaire, but you can read like one. On Monday, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates shared his annual list of five books he loved over the past year with a post and video on his Gates Notes blog.

And there's a bonus if you're looking for holiday gift ideas. "I usually don't consider whether something would make a good present when I'm putting together my end-of-year book list," Gates says, "but this year's selections are highly giftable." 

Teach your children well

Gates' first pick is the highly acclaimed Educated, by Tara Westover. You may have heard about Westover's highly unusual childhood. Raised in a Mormon survivalist home in rural Idaho by parents who believed doomsday was around the bend, she didn't step foot inside a classroom until she was 17. Yet she taught herself well enough that she got into Brigham Young University and earned a doctorate in intellectual history from the prestigious Cambridge University.

"(Westover's) experience is an extreme version of something everyone goes through with their parents," Gates writes. "At some point in your childhood, you go from thinking they know everything to seeing them as adults with limitations. I'm sad that Tara is estranged from a lot of her family because of this process, but the path she's taken and the life she's built for herself are truly inspiring."

GIs and AI

Gates writes that his childhood interest in sci-fi eventually led him to pick up Paul Scharre's Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War. The book definitely seems to have echoes of The Terminator, with its focus on the implications and real-life uses of artificial intelligence in the military, especially regarding weapons.

"There are no easy answers here," Gates writes. "But I agree with Scharre that we have to guard against becoming 'seduced by the allure of machines -- their speed, their seeming perfection, their cold precision.' And we should not leave it up to military planners or the people writing software to determine where to draw the proper lines."

Bleeding out

The fall of Silicon Valley darling Theranos is the topic of Gates' third choice, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou. Founded by Elizabeth Holmes when she was only 19, Theranos was the company that claimed it could use just a tiny amount of blood to produce a complete picture of a patient's health. The only problem was the technology never worked.

"Bad Blood tackles some serious ethical questions, but it is ultimately a thriller with a tragic ending," Gates writes. "I think it's the perfect book to read by the fire this winter."

Worry not

Gates has raved about previous books by historian Yuval Noah Harari, so it's no wonder his latest, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, makes Gates' current list. The book tackles some big topics, presenting historical and philosophical perspectives on major issues such as work, war, nationalism, religion, immigration and education.

Gates doesn't agree with everything in the book, but he appreciates it nonetheless. And he wants more. "All three of (Harari's) books wrestle with some version of the same question: What will give our lives meaning in the decades and centuries ahead?" Gates writes. "(He) has teed up a crucial global conversation about how to take on the problems of the 21st century."

Meditation and mindfulness

It's hard to picture Gates sitting in the lotus position and chanting "om." And the billionaire admits that in his more driven days, he often thought of meditation as a "woo-woo" practice somehow related to reincarnation. But times have changed: Gates now says he meditates two or three times a week for about 10 minutes at a  time. So he recommends The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness, by Andy Puddicombe.

Puddicombe has an interesting biography. He's an ordained Buddhist monk who left to become a circus clown, then created the Headspace app to "bring meditation to the masses." He's taught private meditation lessons to the Gates family, and if you're unlikely to have the clout for private lessons, this book is the next best thing.

"Andy has taken some heat from hard-core meditators for his low-barrier approach, but he got me to take up meditation and stick with it," Gates says. "I'm glad he did."

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