You may have pictured yourself kicking back with a thriller or romance novel this summer, but Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) co-founder Bill Gates thinks you should wrestle with some big questions as well. The 62-year-old philanthropist and investor recently posted his top recommendations for this summer on his blog. "Despite the heavy subject matter, all these books were fun to read, and most of them are pretty short. Even the longest (Leonardo) goes quickly," he wrote.
Gates also showed he still understands the Internet better than most by casting puppies to portray the theme of each book in the video, which you can watch below.
Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson
Most people know Leonardo da Vinci as one of the most famous artists in history, but was also the original "Renaissance man" – an expert in many different fields – due to his advanced knowledge of science, engineering, music and mathematics in addition to art. Isaacson's biography delves into the over 7,000 pages available of Vinci's preserved notebooks.
"When you look across all of Leonardo’s many abilities and his few failings, the attribute that stands out above all else was his sense of wonder and curiosity," wrote Gates. "When he wanted to understand something—whether it was the flow of blood through the heart or the shape of a woodpecker’s tongue—he would observe it closely, scribble down his thoughts, and then try to figure it all out."
Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, by Kate Bowler
Being diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at the age of 35 forced Kate Bowler, an expert in the prosperity gospel, to rethink some of her beliefs about life, morality and God. In this memoir, Bowler considers whether folk wisdom about the nature of life – like believing that everything happens for a reason or that God rewards good deeds – is actually harmful.
"The central questions in this book really resonated with me," wrote Gates. "On one hand, it’s nihilistic to think that every outcome is simply random. I have to believe that the world is better when we act morally, and that people who do good things deserve a somewhat better fate on average than those who don’t. But if you take it to extremes, that cause-and-effect view can be hurtful."
Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
George Saunders won the Man Booker Prize for this experimental novel about America's 16th president mourning his son Willie. "Bardo" is the liminal phase between life and death in Tibetan Buddhism, and much of the plot unfolds here as Willie struggles to leave his distraught father.
"It blends historical facts from the Civil War with fantastical elements—it’s basically a long conversation among 166 ghosts, including Lincoln’s deceased son. I got new insight into the way Lincoln must have been crushed by the weight of both grief and responsibility," wrote Gates.
Origin Story: A Big History of Everything, by David Christian
Bill Gates founded the Big History Project, an interdisciplinary online course aimed at classrooms, with historian David Christian after he was impressed by his lectures. Christian's book takes the reader on the same journey.
"Understanding where humanity comes from is crucial to shaping where we go next. 'Origin Story' is an up-to-date history of everything that will leave you with a greater appreciation of our place in the universe," wrote Gates.
Factfulness, by Hans Rosling, with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund
Hans Rosling was a Swedish doctor, global health professor and statistician who worked for 20 years in Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania. His book "Factfulness," completed by his son and daughter-in-law after his passing last year, explains how people's preconceptions and instincts prevent them from seeing the facts as they focus all their attention on the most dramatic or negative.
"I’ve been recommending this book since the day it came out," wrote Gates. "It’s a fitting final word from a brilliant man, and one of the best books I’ve ever read."