It’s that time of year again. Just as the holiday season kicks off, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates – as part of an annual tradition – has released his list of the best books of 2021.
Gates has been a voracious reader since he was a kid. His passion for reading eventually became too much for his parents. “He read so much that Bill’s mom and I had to introduce a rule: no books at the dinner table,” Gates’ father, Bill Gates Sr. (d. 2020), Forbes in 2016. Gates revealed his latest picks in a post Monday on his personal blog, GatesNotes. And as in other years, the fourth richest person in the world says his “holiday reading” followed a clear theme, the genre that captivated him as a child: science fiction.
“When I was a kid, I was obsessed with science fiction,” Gates recalls. “There was something so exciting to me about these stories that pushed the boundaries of what was possible.”
The 2021 year-end list includes two science fiction books and another two that focus on science. His latest recommendation is a novel about one of the most famous playwrights of all time.
A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence, by Jeff Hawkins.
This book by the co-inventor of the PalmPilot – described by Gates as “one of the pioneers of mobile computing” – puts forward a new theory of intelligence aimed at aiding the development of so-called “general intelligence” in machines, or the hypothetical ability of machines to understand the world as humans do. Gates praises the book for its refreshing (“suitable for non-experts”) approach to a topic that he believes will ultimately “help us tackle really complex, multifaceted challenges, like improving medicine.” There is also a personal connection. Gates recalls “watching helplessly” as his father recovered from Alzheimer’s disease, an experience that, he says, made him realize how much is still not understood about the human brain.
The Codebreaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing and the Future of Humanity, by Walter Isaacson.
According to Gates, this latest book by esteemed Steve Jobs biographer Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin is “much broader” than just a portrait of Jennifer Doudna, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who helped discover CRISPR gene editing. It’s an in-depth and thought-provoking look at the technology — making it easier for scientists to alter human and other genomes — its current uses and “the key ethical questions arising from the CRISPR revolution.” The Microsoft founder says his personal excitement about CRISPR has “grown from super high to off the charts” in recent years, but he emphasizes that the public should “play an involved role in drawing the ethical lines” about how it should be done. used.
Clara and the sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro.
The fictional story of a robot who offers companionship to a sick young girl, Gates says he was interested in this book because of its rare description of “a future where robots make our lives better.” It is set in a dystopian society where children are genetically altered to be smarter and end up living a largely isolated existence. Clara and the sun revolves around a young girl, Josie, who falls ill from the risky procedure. She finds solace in an “artificial friend” who often blurs the line between robot and human. “As I was reading the book, I had to think about which parts of it paint a picture of our likely future,” Gates says, adding that he believes “one day we will have both companion and utility robots in our lives.”
hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell.
Another work of fiction – though loosely linked to real life events – this book depicts the life of William Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, and how his tragic death at age 11 may have influenced one of his most celebrated plays. Hamlet was written just two years after the young boy’s death, who seizes O’Farrell to weave what Gates hailed as a “touching explanation of how Shakespeare turned his grief and guilt into writing.” Gates, a self-confessed Shakespearean fan, says he’s always eager to investigate the playwright’s famously opaque personal life, even if it’s just speculation.
Project Greetings, by Andy Weir.
A more light-hearted choice, this new book by the author of the Martian tells the story of a high school physics teacher who teams up with a friendly alien to save the solar system from a solar-eating microorganism. While it’s not exactly scientific — admits Gates “the chances of another living species relatively close by seem slim” — the billionaire says he finds it “exciting to think about what other life might be out there” . He recommends the fictional story for “anyone in the mood for a fun diversion” and notes that he finished it in a weekend.