GatesNotes.com
By Kirsten Salyer
December 5, 2016
IDEAS
Kirsten Salyer is a writer and the former Deputy Editor of TIME Ideas

Bill Gates is an avid reader: the world’s richest man once read through his parents’ set of World Book Encyclopedias in alphabetical order. So when he selects just five as his top reads of 2016, it’s worth taking note.

Gates revealed his picks in a blog post on his personal website, Gates Notes, on Monday. The books range in subject—from tennis strategy to genome technology to political leadership. What connects them is that they each help readers teach themselves new things, Gates writes. “They’re all very well written, and they all dropped me down a rabbit hole of unexpected insights and pleasures.

Here are his top four picks (and one honorable mention):

1. String Theory, by David Foster Wallace.

Library of America

In String Theory, Library of America put together five nonfiction essays on tennis by the late David Foster Wallace, including a essay on his experience as a junior player in Illinois in 1992, “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley,” and a celebrated profile of Roger Federer in 2006, “Federer as Religious Experience.” “You don’t have to play or even watch tennis to love this book,” Gates writes. “The late author wielded a pen as skillfully as Roger Federer wields a tennis racket.”

2. Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight.

Scribner

Gates has met the author of the memoir Shoe Dog and can attest that the co-founder of Nike can be tricky to get to know. Knight’s openness in the book is what won it a spot on the list. The memoir “is a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like: messy, precarious, and riddled with mistakes,” Gates writes.

3. The Gene, by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Scribner

In The Gene, oncologist and Pulitzer-winning author Siddhartha Mukherjee explains how scientists have come to understand genes and addresses the moral questions of current genome technologies. The best part? You don’t need to be a doctor to understand it. “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 writes.

4. The Myth of the Strong Leader, by Archie Brown.

Basic Books

The subject of this 2014 book by international-relations scholar Archie Brown made it an especially relevant read during the recent U.S. presidential election—and earned it a spot on Gates’ 2016 list. Brown argues that best political leaders are not those we perceive to be “strong,” but those who can negotiate, collaborate and delegate.

Honorable mention: The Grid, by Gretchen Bakke.

Bloomsbury USA

Gretchen Bakke’s The Grid had special resonance for Gates: his first job was writing software for the entity that controls the Northwest power grid. The deep dive on the U.S. electric grid reveals its complexity and importance and highlights the difficulty in reinventing it for a clean-energy future. It also fits into one of Gates’ favorite categories: “Books About Mundane Stuff That Are Actually Fascinating.”

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