Literary Gates-Keeping

Here’s What Bill Gates Thinks You Should Read This Year

The Microsoft founder's selected reads reflect a predictable thematic overtone.

By Sophie Grossman November 22, 2021

The billionaire tech mogul moonlighting as an extra from Love Actually.

Image: Gates Notes

Bill Gates has had a lot of time to read this year—or so he says in the introduction to his holiday book list. And it’s like, we get it, Bill; you’re rich and actually have time to read for pleasure. No need to rub it in.

In a redeeming turn, however, he has collaborated with a number of local indie book sellers to give away sets of his selected reads, and it must be conceded that it’s a solid lineup, especially for anyone with a proclivity for sci-fi.

There will be 100 sets available for pickup on a first-come, first-serve basis today and tomorrow, November 23, at the following bookstores: Elliott Bay Book CompanyPaper Boat BooksellersPhinney Books, Madison Books, and University Book Store. Now on to the reading list.

A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence, Jeff Hawkins

Gates calls the second book from neuroscientist Jeff Hawkins “modest progress in suggesting the structure of the brain,” which may sound like modest praise. But when it comes to a matter so complex as human cognition and neurophysiology, it is, in fact, a ringing endorsement. Hawkins hones in on the biggest question in the field: How do the brain’s cells come together to form something so vast and abstract as intelligence? 

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, Walter Isaacson

Gates professes himself to be a great admirer of Isaacson’s body of work, which includes biographies of Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, and Leonardo DaVinci. Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Jennifer Doudna joins these distinguished ranks in his newest book, which delves into the radically groundbreaking development of the CRISPR method of gene editing and its implications for the future of humanity. 

Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro

This work of speculative fiction by British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go) reflects a philosophical underpinning that unites all of Gates’ selections; it meditates on the nature of consciousness and intelligence and examines the way that technology shapes our self-perception as individuals and a species, through the story of a dystopian future where children are optimized through genetic engineering and socialize primarily with their robot companions as they attend school from home (Sound a little too real? That’s sort of the point). 

Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell

A slight reprieve from the strong sci-fi bent of the other selections, this historical fiction novel netted last year’s National Book Critics Circle Award with its stirring, deeply personal look at one of history’s most towering and mythologized literary figures.

Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir

The sole survivor of a desperate, last-ditch mission to save the human race awakens with his memory in tatters millions of miles away from the nearest sentient life form—or so he believes. From the author of The Martian, this new work by Andy Weir rounds out the list with some high sci-fi. 

Show Comments