Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has had a tumultuous year. His divorce from Melinda French Gates was finalized in August. In May, when news of the divorce first came out, stories from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal alleged questionable behavior by Gates while he was still married. In happier personal news, Gates' oldest daughter, Jennifer, wed in October. But through it all, Gates still found time for reading, and on Monday he published a video and blog post recommending five books he enjoyed in 2021.
Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir
Gates, like many of us, discovered Andy Weir's writing through his 2011 bestseller, The Martian. This new novel involves a high school science teacher who wakes up in a different star system with no memory of how he got there. "It's a fun read, and I finished the whole thing in one weekend," Gates wrote.
Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell
Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet uses facts from William Shakespeare's life to create a fictional story. Shakespeare's son Hamnet died at age 11, and later the playwright famously wrote the tragedy Hamlet. Gates calls the novel "moving," and says, "I especially enjoyed reading about [Shakespeare's] wife, Anne, who is imagined here as an almost supernatural figure."
Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Kazuo Ishiguro, author of Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, among other novels, has a new story about a world with super-intelligent robots. "I love a good robot story, and Ishiguro's novel about an 'artificial friend' to a sick young girl is no exception," Gates wrote. "This book made me think about what life with super-intelligent robots might look like -- and whether we'll treat these kinds of machines as pieces of technology or as something more."
The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, by Walter Isaacson
It wouldn't be a Gates book list without a nonfiction book or two about topics average people rarely think about. Walter Isaacson's The Code Breaker delves into the discovery of the CRISPR gene editing system. Of course, Gates is already in the loop. "I'm familiar with it because of my work at the [Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation] -- we're funding a number of projects that use the technology," he writes. "But I still learned a lot from this comprehensive and accessible book about its discovery by Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues."
A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence, by Jeff Hawkins
Here's another nonfiction book for science lovers. Jeff Hawkins, creator of the Palm Pilot, wrote A Thousand Brains about the connections between neuroscience and machine learning. "Few subjects have captured the imaginations of science fiction writers like artificial intelligence," Gates writes. "If you're interested in learning more about what it might take to create a true AI, this book offers a fascinating theory."