Bill Gates thinks you should read these 5 books

A celebrity comic's autobiography and a blunt tale of eviction in Milwaukee are just two of the billionaire's recommended reads.

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Gael Cooper
3 min read

Ah, books, the great equalizer. Most of us can't live like billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, but we can read like him. On Monday, Gates recommended five diverse books he read in 2017 -- though some were published earlier.

"It's been a busy year, but I've found time to read a number of great books," Gates says in a video posted to his Gates Notes blog. Here are his five picks:

"Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City," by Matthew Desmond

This 2016 book, in which Desmond closely follows residents of one black and one white neighborhood in Milwaukee, won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. "'Evicted' is well worth reading for anyone who wants to better understand poverty in America," Gates writes in a review. 

Gates and wife Melinda have begun to work with Desmond on this issue. "With support from our foundation, (Desmond) is calculating eviction rates for every city in the country," Gates writes. "He is looking deeper into these market failures to understand why housing prices stay so high even in low-income neighborhoods. (We funded this work long before I read 'Evicted'.)"

"The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir," by Thi Bui

Gates calls this graphic novel "stunning." Bui is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who came to America after the fall of Saigon, and becoming a parent inspired her to look into her own parents' traumatic history. "I was struck by how the experiences Bui illustrates manage to be both universal and specific to their circumstances," Gates said.

"Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens," by Eddie Izzard

Acclaimed comic Izzard is one of Gates' favorite performers, he says. The American billionaire was startled to realize how much he has in common with "a funny, dyslexic, transgender actor, comedian, escape artist, unicyclist, ultra-marathoner, and pilot from Great Britain." Like Gates, Izzard was a nerdy child who quit school and lost his mother to cancer. 

But Gates warns that those who aren't already fans of the star might not be able to follow the autobiography. "You have to witness his brand of surreal, intellectual, self-deprecating humor," Gates writes. "Otherwise, it will be like you're walking into the middle of a conversation."

"The Sympathizer," by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The second book about Vietnam on Gates' list, this is the only novel that appears. Another Pulitzer Prize-winner, the book is presented as the forced confession of an unnamed communist double agent during the Vietnam War. "Most war stories are clear about which side you should root for -- 'The Sympathizer' doesn't let the reader off the hook so easily," Gates writes.

"Energy and Civilization: A History," by Vaclav Smil

Gates is a Vaclav Smil fanboy. "I wait for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next Star Wars movie," he confesses. In this book, Smil "goes deep and broad to explain how innovations in humans' ability to turn energy into heat, light, and motion have been a driving force behind our cultural and economic progress over the past 10,000 years."