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Bill Gates reveals his 6 favorite books of 2015

Bill Gates reveals his 6 favorite books of 2015

Bill Gates says that he reads more than 50 books a year. Out of all of those, the Microsoft founder  and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation head  just selected six of the best titles he's read in 2015.

Here they are:

'Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words' by Randall Munroe

 
GatesNotes.com

In "Thing Explainer," Randall Munroe describes how everything from rockets to smartphones to the US Constitution work — using just the 1,000 most commonly used words in English.

Gates says that it's a "brilliant concept" because if "you can’t explain something simply, you don't really understand it."

And Munroe, a former NASA roboticist and creator of beloved web comic "XKCD," is just the guy to do it.

One of his favorite explanations is why microwaves — which Munroe calls a radio box — cook frozen foods unevenly:

When you put iced food in a radio box, after a while, parts of it start to turn to water. But since radio boxes are really good at heating water, those parts start to get hot really fast. They can even get so hot they start turning to air—before all the ice is even gone!

Not only does the book give you a better understanding of how the objects in our lives work, but it's a lesson in making complicated ideas relatable.

It's "a wonderful guide for curious minds," Gates says.

Buy it on Amazon for $16.71.

 

'Mindset' by Carol S. Dweck

 
GatesNotes.com

Not all of Gates' favorites of this year were released in 2015. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck's masterwork "Mindset" was published in 2006.

Gates says that "if you mistakenly believe that your capabilities derive from DNA and destiny, rather than practice and perseverance, then you operate with what Dweck calls a 'fixed mindset' rather than a 'growth mindset.'"

The fixed mindset is a "huge psychological roadblock," Gates says, because it means that you're going to do things that validate how gifted you are — and avoid the potential shame in doing things you're not immediately excellent at. It's the mindset that makes people say self-limiting things like "I'm just not good at math" or "I can't rock-climb" rather than trusting that, with enough effort, they'll improve.

Gates notes that the growth or fixed mindsets show up in different facets of his life — he might have a growth mindset around bridge, but he has a fixed mindset regarding basketball.

That's what's so useful about the book. It helps you examine the facets of your life with new eyes, Gates says, prompting questions like "Which areas have I always looked at through a fixed-mindset lens?" and "In what ways am I sending the wrong message to my children about mindset and effort?"

Buy it on Amazon for $9.54.

'The Road to Character' by David Brooks

 
GatesNotes.com

Gates says that he found New York Times columnist David Brooks' new meditation on leading an ethical life useful for evaluating his own life.

Brooks talks about virtue in two ways: résumé virtues, the tasks you accomplish and the status you attain, and eulogy virtues, or the inner character that interacts with the outside world.

The task for us is to hear the calling of the eulogy virtues in the me-first world of social-media saturated consumer culture.

Brooks supplies a question to alert us to that voice: "What are my circumstances calling me to do?"

Buy it on Amazon for $16.99.

 

'Being Nixon' by Evan Thomas

 
GatesNotes.com

One of the best things a book can do is help you understand the complexities of a human life, and Gates likes Evan Thomas' new presidential biography for examining the beguilingly complicated life of Richard Nixon.

"Thomas gives you smart insights into Nixon's character," Gates writes. "You learn about his hardscrabble upbringing, and how the social slights he experienced as a child put a chip on his shoulder that would last the rest of his life. He suspected that many of Washington D.C.'s elites looked down on him, and he was right. He railed against Ivy Leaguers, insisting that they would never serve in his White House, and then proceeded to fill his team with Harvard and Yale graduates. He was socially awkward — painfully so — but he took on the most public career imaginable."

Gates says that Thomas, a Newsweek editor-at-large who has also authored books about Dwight Eisenhower and Bobby Kennedy, among other American figures, gives Nixon a fair deal.

It's not a "sympathetic portrait," Gates says, but an "empathetic one."

Buy it on Amazon for $21.35.

 

'Eradication: Ridding the World of Diseases Forever?' by Nancy Leys Stepan

 
GatesNotes.com

Bill Gates is a man of many missions. Perhaps the greatest of them is eradicating infectious disease.

But the only disease that has been fully eradicated is smallpox, which killed an estimated 300 million people in the 20th century before its cessation in 1980.

In "Eradication," Columbia University historian Nancy Leys Stepan traces the efforts of activist Fred Soper in eliminating the disease.

Eradication "gives you a good sense of how involved the effort to eradicate a disease can get,
how many different kinds of approaches have been tried without success, and how much we've
learned from our failures," Gates writes.

Next up: polio.

Buy it on Amazon for $25.50.

 

'Sustainable Materials with Both Eyes Open' by Julian M. Allwood and Jonathan M. Cullen

 
GatesNotes.com

Gates also has a thing for materials.

Basically, if we're going to have any hope in not wrecking the world through climate change, we need to get smarter with how we build things.

In "Sustainable Materials with Both Eyes Open," University of Cambridge researchers Julian Allwood and Jonathan Cullen provide a wonky analysis of how to do that.

Allwood and Cullen say that just looking for efficiencies in building is looking with "one eye open," since it's not really going to help reduce carbon emissions, given that global demand is going to double by 2050.

As the title suggests, we have to look with "both eyes open."

To do that, according to Gates' analysis, you start by "studying how you could use less material to begin with, make products that last longer, reuse or recycle them, or avoid using the service the material provides."

The stakes are huge.

"The authors argue that by looking with both eyes open—both using less stuff, and making stuff more efficiently—it should be possible to cut emissions in half without asking people to make big sacrifices," Gates says.

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