Bill Gates wants you to read these 5 books over the summer

Beach-read like a billionaire with touching novel Lincoln in the Bardo, a biography of renaissance genius Leonardo Da Vinci, and more.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer 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." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
3 min read

Most of us can't live like a billionaire, but nothing's stopping us from reading like one. Bill Gates  on Monday published his annual summer reading list on his GatesNotes blog, mixing four nonfiction works with one acclaimed novel.

Presidential grief and ghosts

The lone novel is George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo (in Tibetan Buddhism, "bardo" is a state of existence between death and rebirth). President Abraham Lincoln visits the Washington DC grave of his young son Willie, and more than 160 ghosts visit the grave that night, trying to convince Willie's spirit to move on. 

"I got new insight into the way Lincoln must have been crushed by the weight of both grief and responsibility," Gates writes. This is one of those fascinating, ambiguous books you'll want to discuss with a friend when you're done."

Why cancer?

Gates also recommends Kate Bowler's memoir Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I've Loved, about the divinity professor's search for answers about her stage 4 colon cancer.

"Bowler's writing is direct and unsentimental," Gates says. "She's not saying her life is unfair or that she deserved better. She's just telling you what happened.

Renaissance genius

Also on Gates' list: a biography of artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. Gates owns the Codex Leicester, one of da Vinci's journals, so he's long had an interested in the legendary polymath.

"More than any other Leonardo book I've read, this one helps you see him as a complete human being and understand just how special he was," Gates says of the book. "(da Vinci) came close to understanding almost all of what was known on the planet at the time."

How it all began

Gates includes Origin Story: A Big History of Everything, by David Christian, on his list. Christian is an author and historian who joined with Gates in 2011 to start the Big History Project. The group promotes a course based on Christian's work, which teaches world and scientific history in an interdisciplinary way.

"If you haven't taken Big History yet, Origin Story is a great introduction," Gates writes. "If you have, it's a great refresher. Either way, the book will leave you with a greater appreciation of humanity's place in the universe."

Just the facts

Gates' final rave is for Factfulness, by Hans Rosling, with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund, and he calls it "one of the best books I've ever read." Hans Rosling was a Swedish global-health lecturer and friend of Gates' who died in 2017. Rosling offers a new framework to think about the world, dividing the population into four income groups. The billion people in level one are in extreme poverty, while the billion in level four can afford cars and vacations.

"This was a breakthrough to me," Gates says. "The framework Hans enunciates is one that took me decades of working in global development to create for myself, and I could have never expressed it in such a clear way. I'm going to try to use this model moving forward."

Gates has made it an annual tradition to recommend books not just for summer, but at the close of each year.

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