Bill Gates Summer Reading List

Bill Gates
As he has done last year, Bill Gates published a list of his picks for summer reading a with a few more things that are on the lighter side.

“When you have to spend every social interaction consciously manipulating your face into shapes that are only approximately the right ones, alienating people is inevitable.” It must be empowering for those who have struggled with depression to read this book, see themselves, and know they’re far from alone.

He organizes each chapter around a question (e.g., “What is the sun?”) and begins the chapter with a litany of colorful explanatory myths offered by different cultures around the world. Then he shows us the elegant answers science has offered as the power of direct and indirect detection has expanded through the years. “I hope you agree that the truth has a magic of its own,” he writes. “The truth is more magical—in the best and most exciting sense of the word—than any myth or made-up mystery or miracle.”

  • XKCD by Randall Munroe

What If? may not be quite as funny as XKCD, but it’s a lot more interesting. The subtitle of the book is “Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions,” and that’s exactly what it is. People write Munroe with questions that range over all fields of science: physics, chemistry, biology. Questions like, “From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hit the ground?” The answer, it turns out, is “high enough that it would disintegrate before it hit the ground.” Another question: “What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?” to which the answer is, essentially, the human race would be wiped out.

What makes this book so good and unusual is how effortlessly Biss moves around different topics. Her father is an oncologist and her mother a poet, which probably helps to explain how Biss so easily navigates the worlds of science and literature. And she’s just as good when she draws on insights from psychology, sociology, women’s studies, history, and philosophy.One of the virtues of crossing so many boundaries is that it helps expand the way we view these issues.

The richer the world gets, the more meat it eats; the more meat it eats, the bigger the threat to the planet. How do we square this circle?

I can’t think of anyone better equipped to present a clear-eyed analysis of this subject than Vaclav Smil. I have written several times before about how much I admire Smil’s work. When he tackles a subject, he doesn’t look at just one piece of it. He examines every angle. Even if I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, I always learn a lot from reading him.