Billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates spends a lot of time reading books, and an almost equal amount of time writing reviews of the books he’s read. For acolytes, his reading habits provide a glimpse into both his personal life and how he conducts business.
“I read mostly nonfiction because I always want to learn more about how the world works,” Gates writes in an essay to be published on his personal website tomorrow discussing his picks. “And reading is how I learn best. Each of the books on the list… taught me something I didn’t know.”
BuzzFeed got a sneak peek at Gates’ top picks from among the many books he’s read this year, along with his reasoning behind the picks:
3. The Box, by Marc Levinson
The book:The Box basically chronicles the beginning of the shipping container, and how it helped spark the growth of the global trade industry.
Gates says: “You might think you don’t want to read a whole book about shipping containers… But he makes a good case that the move to containerized shipping had an enormous impact on the global economy and changed the way the world does business. And he turns it into a very readable narrative. I won’t look at a cargo ship in quite the same way again.”
5. The Most Powerful Idea in the World, by William Rosen
The book: The Most Powerful Idea In The World is mainly about the origins of the steam engine, but also breaks down much of the processes in invention including intellectual property.
Gates says: “A bit like The Box, except it’s about steam engines… I’d wanted to know more about steam engines since the summer of 2009, when my son and I spent a lot of time hanging out at the Science Museum in London.”
7. Harvesting the Biosphere, by Vaclav Smil.
The book: Harvesting The Biosphere is essentially an account of how much the human race through its history has harvested from the planet, ranging from raw materials to flora and fauna.
Gates says: “Here he gives as clear and as numeric a picture as is possible of how humans have altered the biosphere. The book is a bit dry and I had to look up a number of terms that were unfamiliar to me, but it tells a critical story if you care about the impact we’re having on the planet.”
9. The World Until Yesterday, by Jared Diamond
The book: The World Until Yesterday is a basic assessment of the differences — and still-existing similarities — modern human life has with more primitive societies.
Gates says: “Diamond finds fascinating anecdotes about what life is like for hunter-gatherers and asks which ones might apply to our modern lifestyles. He doesn’t make some grand pronouncement or romanticize tribal life. He just wants to find the best practices and share them.”
11. Poor Numbers, by Morten Jerven
The book: Poor Numbers consists of an analysis of the production and use of African economic development statistics — much of which has fallen into disarray.
Gates says: “Jerven, an economist, spent four years digging into how African nations get their statistics and the challenges they face in turning them into GDP estimates. He makes a strong case that a lot of GDP measurements we thought were accurate are far from it.”
13. Why Does College Cost So Much?, by Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman.
The book: Why Does College Cost So Much runs the basic economics behind the cost of college education, which suggests that higher education is a personal service that relies on highly educated labor. It also examines the increasing problem of affordability of college education.
Gates says: “The authors are good about not pointing fingers but instead talking about how America’s labor market affects the cost of college. My view is that as long as there’s a scarcity of college graduates, a college degree will be quite valuable. So people will pay more to get one. And if they will pay more, then colleges and universities — whose labor is provided mostly by people who paid a lot for their own degrees — can ask for more. Until you get an excess supply of graduates, then you don’t really get any price competition.”
15. The Bet, by Paul Sabin
The book: The Bet lays out some of the extreme viewpoints over the future of the planet — whether human ingenuity will prevent disaster or whether doom is imminent — and how they came to emerge.
Gates says: “Sabin chronicles the public debate about whether the world is headed for an environmental catastrophe. He centers the story on Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon, who wagered $1,000 on whether human welfare would improve or get worse over time. Without ridiculing either proponent, Sabin shows how their extreme views contributed to the polarized debate over climate change and other issues that continues today.”