Never before have I felt so empowered to learn as I do today. When I was young, there were few options to learn on my own. My parents had a set of World Book Encyclopedias, which I read through in alphabetical order. But there were no online courses, video lectures, or podcasts to introduce me to new ideas and thinkers as we have today.
First the list
- The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age
- Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
- The Gene: An Intimate History
- The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age
- The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future
Still, reading books is my favorite way to learn about a new topic. I’ve been reading about a book a week on average since I was a kid. Even when my schedule is out of control, I carve out a lot of time for reading.
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If you’re looking for a book to enjoy over the holidays, here are some of my favorites from this year. They cover an eclectic mix of topics—from tennis to tennis shoes, genomics to great leadership. They’re all very well written, and they all dropped me down a rabbit hole of unexpected insights and pleasures.
Bill Gates’ Favorite Books – String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis: A Library of America Special Publication, by David Foster Wallace.
Gathered for the first time in a deluxe collector’s edition, here are David Foster Wallace’s legendary writings on tennis, five tour-de-force pieces written with a competitor’s insight and a fan’s obsessive enthusiasm. Wallace brings his dazzling literary magic to the game he loved as he celebrates the other-worldly genius of Roger Federer; offers a wickedly witty disection of Tracy Austin’s memoir; considers the artistry of Michael Joyce, a supremely disciplined athlete on the threshold of fame; resists the crush of commerce at the U.S. Open; and recalls his own career as a “near-great” junior player.
Bill Gates’ Favorite Books – Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike , by Phil Knight.
In this candid and riveting memoir, for the first time ever, Nike founder and board chairman Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands.
Young, searching, fresh out of business school, Phil Knight borrowed fifty dollars from his father and launched a company with one simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost running shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the trunk of his Plymouth Valiant, Knight grossed eight thousand dollars that first year, 1963. Today, Nike’s annual sales top $30 billion. In this age of start-ups, Knight’s Nike is the gold standard, and its swoosh is more than a logo. A symbol of grace and greatness, it’s one of the few icons instantly recognized in every corner of the world.
But Knight, the man behind the swoosh, has always been a mystery. Now, in a memoir that’s surprising, humble, unfiltered, funny, and beautifully crafted, he tells his story at last. It all begins with a classic crossroads moment. Twenty-four years old, backpacking through Asia and Europe and Africa, wrestling with life’s Great Questions, Knight decides the unconventional path is the only one for him. Rather than work for a big corporation, he will create something all his own, something new, dynamic, different. Knight details the many terrifying risks he encountered along the way, the crushing setbacks, the ruthless competitors, the countless doubters and haters and hostile bankers—as well as his many thrilling triumphs and narrow escapes. Above all, he recalls the foundational relationships that formed the heart and soul of Nike, with his former track coach, the irascible and charismatic Bill Bowerman, and with his first employees, a ragtag group of misfits and savants who quickly became a band of swoosh-crazed brothers.
Together, harnessing the electrifying power of a bold vision and a shared belief in the redemptive, transformative power of sports, they created a brand, and a culture, that changed everything.
Bill Gates’ Favorite Books – The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author of The Emperor of All Maladies—a magnificent history of the gene and a response to the defining question of the future: What becomes of being human when we learn to “read” and “write” our own genetic information?
Siddhartha Mukherjee has a written a biography of the gene as deft, brilliant, and illuminating as his extraordinarily successful biography of cancer. Weaving science, social history, and personal narrative to tell us the story of one of the most important conceptual breakthroughs of modern times, Mukherjee animates the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices.
Throughout the narrative, the story of Mukherjee’s own family—with its tragic and bewildering history of mental illness—cuts like a bright, red line, reminding us of the many questions that hang over our ability to translate the science of genetics from the laboratory to the real world. In superb prose and with an instinct for the dramatic scene, he describes the centuries of research and experimentation—from Aristotle and Pythagoras to Mendel and Darwin, from Boveri and Morgan to Crick, Watson and Franklin, all the way through the revolutionary twenty-first century innovators who mapped the human genome.
As The New Yorker said of The Emperor of All Maladies, “It’s hard to think of many books for a general audience that have rendered any area of modern science and technology with such intelligence, accessibility, and compassion…An extraordinary achievement.” Riveting, revelatory, and magisterial history of a scientific idea coming to life, and an essential preparation for the moral complexity introduced by our ability to create or “write” the human genome, The Gene is a must-read for everyone concerned about the definition and future of humanity. This is the most crucial science of our time, intimately explained by a master.
Bill Gates’ Favorite Books – The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age, by Archie Brown.
All too frequently, leadership is reduced to a simple dichotomy: the strong versus the weak. Yet, there are myriad ways to exercise effective political leadership—as well as different ways to fail. We blame our leaders for economic downfalls and praise them for vital social reforms, but rarely do we question what makes some leaders successful while others falter. In this magisterial and wide-ranging survey of political leadership over the past hundred years, renowned Oxford politics professor Archie Brown challenges the widespread belief that strong leaders – meaning those who dominate their colleagues and the policy-making process – are the most successful and admirable.
In reality, only a minority of political leaders will truly make a lasting difference. Though we tend to dismiss more collegial styles of leadership as weak, it is often the most cooperative leaders who have the greatest impact. Drawing on extensive research and decades of political analysis and experience, Brown illuminates the achievements, failures and foibles of a broad array of twentieth century politicians. Whether speaking of redefining leaders like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Margaret Thatcher, who expanded the limits of what was politically possible during their time in power, or the even rarer transformational leaders who played a decisive role in bringing about systemic change – Charles de Gaulle, Mikhail Gorbachev and Nelson Mandela, among them – Brown challenges our commonly held beliefs about political efficacy and strength.
Overturning many of our assumptions about the twentieth century’s most important figures, Brown’s conclusions are both original and enlightening. The Myth of the Strong Leader compels us to reassess the leaders who have shaped our world – and to reconsider how we should choose and evaluate those who will lead us into the future.
Honorable mention: The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future, by Gretchen Bakke.
America’s electrical grid, an engineering triumph of the twentieth century, is turning out to be a poor fit for the present. It’s not just that the grid has grown old and is now in dire need of basic repair. Today, as we invest great hope in new energy sources–solar, wind, and other alternatives–the grid is what stands most firmly in the way of a brighter energy future. If we hope to realize this future, we need to re-imagine the grid according to twenty-first-century values. It’s a project which forces visionaries to work with bureaucrats, legislators with storm-flattened communities, moneymen with hippies, and the left with the right. And though it might not yet be obvious, this revolution is already well under way.
Cultural anthropologist Gretchen Bakke unveils the many facets of America’s energy infrastructure, its most dynamic moments and its most stable ones, and its essential role in personal and national life. The grid, she argues, is an essentially American artifact, one which developed with us: a product of bold expansion, the occasional foolhardy vision, some genius technologies, and constant improvisation. Most of all, her focus is on how Americans are changing the grid right now, sometimes with gumption and big dreams and sometimes with legislation or the brandishing of guns.
The Grid tells–entertainingly, perceptively–the story of what has been called “the largest machine in the world”: its fascinating history, its problematic present, and its potential role in a brighter, cleaner future.
By Bill Gates, Gates Notes – read the full article here.