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Bill Gates shares holiday reading list for 'a lousy year'

The Microsoft co-founder wants you to finish this cruddy year with a good book.

Bill Gates wants you to kick back with an awesome book this December.

Bill Gates/GatesNotes

When he's not busy promoting coronavirus vaccine efforts or slipping (slightly) down the list of the world's richest people, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is reading. And if he finds a good book, he wants to share it.  

Gates posted his 2020 recommended holiday reading list on his GatesNote blog on Tuesday. The five-book list tackles a variety of subjects, from racial justice to Cold War espionage. Gates titled his post "5 good books for a lousy year."

If these books have anything in common (besides Gates' admiration), it's their lengthy titles:

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Michelle Alexander's book investigates systemic racism within the criminal justice system. Gates lauded Alexander's ability to put these complex issues into context. "I finished the book more convinced than ever that we need a more just approach to sentencing and more investment in communities of color," Gates said.

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Author David Epstein, known for a popular TED Talk on sporting achievements, makes an argument for embracing a wide range of experiences and interests at a time when specialization is valued. "I think his ideas even help explain some of Microsoft's success, because we hired people who had real breadth within their field and across domains," Gates said.

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

History buffs might want to jump straight to this book from Erik Larson, known for his narrative nonfiction best-sellers The Devil in the White City and Isaac's Storm. This one focuses on World War II and life in the UK during the 1940 and 1941 German bombing campaign known as The Blitz. Gates sees a connection between that tragic time and our current lives. 

"The fear and anxiety they felt -- while much more severe than what we're experiencing with COVID-19 -- sounded familiar," he wrote.

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War 

Gates also went into history with this Ben Macintyre nonfiction book about a double-agent KGB officer. "It's every bit as exciting as my favorite spy novels," Gates said.

Breath from Salt: A Deadly Genetic Disease, a New Era in Science, and the Patients and Families Who Changed Medicine

Looking for something uplifting with a medical innovation angle? Bijal P. Trivedi's book traces the development of treatments for cystic fibrosis. "This story is especially meaningful to me because I know families who've benefited from the new medicines described in this book," Gates said.

If you zip through all those books, you can always backtrack and hit up the recommendations from Gates' summer lockdown reading list

Gates offered a sense of hope as we straggle toward the end of 2020, writing, "I hope you find something that helps you -- or the book lover in your life -- finish the year on a good note."