When a billionaire hands out free advice, it’s probably a good idea to listen, and in this case, read. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft (MSFT), just released his favorite books of the year including gems on everything from business to tennis and leadership.
Gates, who founded Microsoft when he was just 20-years-old and currently serves as the company’s technology adviser, is best known for his tech knowledge and also his philanthropic work. Less appreciated, though, is Gates’ habit of reading and sharing lists of his favorite books. “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,” he says in an essay on his blog released Monday. Even with all the digital ways to learn online, Gates says reading books is still his preferred method of learning about new topics.
So what are Gates’ favorite books of 2016?
* “String Theory” by David Foster Wallace. This is a collection of essays written by the deceased wordsmith Wallace about the game of tennis. Wallace was known for his dense but fluid prose, and it was the author’s writing style that seemed to impress Gates and land the book on his list. “The late author wielded a pen as skillfully as Roger Federer wields a tennis racket,” Gates says. “Here, as in his other brilliant works, Wallace found mind-blowing ways of bending language like a metal spoon.” Perhaps explaining why this book was chosen, Gates says he’s been getting back into tennis himself after hanging up the racket when launching Microsoft.
* “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight. Knight, founder of global athletic giant Nike (NKE), is one of the more enigmatic business leaders. Gates himself says “I’ve met Knight a few times over the years. He’s super nice, but he’s also quiet and difficult to get to know.” But Knight’s success is undeniable. What makes Knight’s story of building Nike so worthwhile is the brutal and unvarnished honesty, Gates says. Knight shows the path to success as “messy, precarious, and riddled with mistakes,” Gates says. “I don’t think Knight sets out to teach the reader anything. Instead, he accomplishes something better. He tells his story as honestly as he can.”
* “The Gene” by Siddhartha Mukherjee. As humans decode more mysteries about their genetic code, there are inevitable ethical issues that will arise. Mukherjee, a medical professor at Columbia University and Pulitzer Prize winner, teaches the reader about the growing field of genomic research and what the future holds and which likely will be learned. Don’t worry, despite the topic, the book is written in an accessible style. “Mukherjee wrote this book for a lay audience, because he knows that the new genome technologies are at the cusp of affecting us all in profound ways,” Gates says.
* “The Myth of the Strong Leader” by Archie Brown. Since Gates is such a voracious reader, his book recommendations are often titles most others missed. This book by Brown fits that description as it’s a few years old and was far from a best seller. But the lessons contained about leadership are worth the search, especially during this election year, Gates says. Specifically, the book builds a case that “strong leaders” that rule with crushing authority aren’t the ones that are ultimately the most successful. “Instead, (successful leaders) … tend to be the ones who collaborate, delegate, and negotiate — and recognize that no one person can or should have all the answers,” Gates says.
* “The Grid” by Gretchen Bakke. Reading about the science behind your electrical outlets might not be on your top 10 things to do this December. But if you find yourself curious about what powers your holiday lights, Gates’ honorable mention is worth you time. The book fits one of the common themes of Gates’ favorite books, which in his words is, “books About Mundane Stuff That Are Actually Fascinating.” He says: “even if you have never given a moment’s thought to how electricity reaches your outlets, I think this book would convince you that the electrical grid is one of the greatest engineering wonders of the modern world.”
If you want to read more about Gates’ favorite books of 2016, you can read his full write-up on his blog at GatesNotes.com.