1. The Road to Character by David Brooks
"The insightful New York Times columnist examines the contrasting values that motivate all of us. He argues that American society does a good job of cultivating the 'résumé virtues' (the traits that lead to external success) but not our 'eulogy virtues' (the traits that lead to internal peace of mind)," writes Gates, who says that "The Road to Character gave me a lot to think about."
2. Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe
Here is Gates's summary of this entertaining book : "The brain behind XKCD explains various subjects--from how smartphones work to what the U.S. Constitution says--using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language and blueprint-style diagrams." To get a sense of what you'd be getting yourself into with this one, check out Munroe's boiled down explanation of Einstein's theory of relativity for The New Yorker.
3. Being Nixon: A Man Divided by Evan Thomas
Gates enjoyed this biography of President Nixon because it offers "a more balanced account" of a man who is often portrayed as a simple crook. "I wouldn't call it a sympathetic portrait--in many ways, Nixon was a deeply unsympathetic person--but it is an empathetic one," Gates adds.
4. Sustainable Materials With Both Eyes Open by Julian M. Allwood, Jonathan M. Cullen, et al.
A very topical book, given the talks happening in Paris this week, this pick asks, "How much can we reduce carbon emissions that come from making and using stuff?" The answer: "Quite a bit." The book shows "how we could cut emissions by up to 50 percent without asking people to make big sacrifices," Gates says, and he even claims it's a relatively light read. Better yet, you can download it free from the authors' site.
5. Eradication: Ridding the World of Diseases Forever? by Nancy Leys Stepan
Given the disease-fighting work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it's no surprise that this book intrigued Gates. "Stepan's history of eradication efforts gives you a good sense of how involved the work can get, how many different kinds of approaches have been tried without success, and how much we've learned from our failures," he writes, though he also warns that, while extremely valuable, it is far from a page turner.
6. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck
"Through clever research studies and engaging writing, Dweck illuminates how our beliefs about our capabilities exert tremendous influence on how we learn and which paths we take in life. The value of this book extends way beyond the world of education. It's just as relevant for businesspeople who want to cultivate talent and for parents who want to raise their kids to thrive on challenge," clams Gates. Want a preview? Here's a short introduction to Dweck's ideas.
BY JESSICA STILLMAN