Igor Bosilkovski of Forbes writes on Bill Gates’ favorite books of 2017 including The Sympathizer.
Harvard dropout, Microsoft cofounder, co-chair of the world’s largest philanthropic organization and a verified bookworm, Bill Gates claims he’s been reading about one book a week on average since he was a kid. “Reading is my favorite way to indulge my curiosity. Although I’m lucky that I get to meet with a lot of interesting people and visit fascinating places through my work” Gates writes, “I still think books are the best way to explore new topics that interest you.”
In recent years, Gates has also taken great pleasure in sharing his thoughts on books on his personal blog https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books#All. On Monday he released his latest list, this time his five favorite books of 2017. This year’s picks include a graphic autobiography on what it means to be a refugee and a parent, a book on American poverty seen through the lens of the eviction crisis in Milwaukee and a historical novel that tells the story of a double agent during the Vietnam war.
The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui. The graphic novel, which Gates calls “gorgeous,” starts in the delivery room where the author is giving birth; her mother, unable to watch, walks out. The daughter of Vietnam refugees who fled to the U.S. in 1978, she is prompted by the birth of her own child to understand more about her parents’ childhood growing up in a country torn apart by foreign occupiers. Gates finds the novel to be a great amalgamation of universalist themes (“when it comes to raising our kids, we simply do the best we can do” he writes) and the author’s personal experiences: “It’s clear that a lot of the dysfunction surrounding her childhood is a direct result of what happened in Vietnam.”Today In: Lists
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond. This books tells the story of the nation’s extreme poverty through stories of people who are unable to pay their rent and are often evicted from their homes. Gates calls it “a brilliant portrayal of Americans living in poverty.” The author of the book, Matthew Desmond, a sociologist at Princeton University and a grantee of Gates’ foundation who won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction for his book this year, spent 18 months living in two high-poverty neighborhoods in Milwaukee—one mostly white, the other mostly black—getting to know the residents and documenting their lives. “True to its title, much of Evicted is about how hard it is to find and keep a home when you live in deep poverty” Gates writes.
Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens, by Eddie Izzard. “I’ve recently discovered that I have a lot in common with a funny, dyslexic, transgender actor, comedian, escape artist, unicyclist, ultra-marathoner, and pilot from Great Britain. Except all of the above,” deadpans Gates. The Microsoft cofounder does share some similarities with Izzard: as a child Eddie was nerdy, awkward, and incompetent at flirting with girls; he had terrible handwriting, was good at math, highly motivated to learn everything he could about subjects that interested him, left college at age 19 to pursue his professional dreams and had a loving mom who died of cancer way too young. Whatever similarities, or differences, between them, Gates says he laughed out loud on several occasions while reading this book.
The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Another Pulitzer Prize winner, a debut novel, this time in the fiction category. The book tells the story of a North Vietnamese communist double agent embedded with the South Vietnamese Army and their American allies. After being evacuated after the fall of Saigon, he ends up, like many Vietnamese, in California where he spies on fellow refugees and sends reports written in invisible ink to his handler back in Vietnam. The book left a deep impression on Gates (who first visited Vietnam in 2006) in the fact that it offered “a much-needed Vietnamese perspective on the war.”
Energy and Civilization: A History, by Vaclav Smil. Gates is pretty open about being a fanboy regarding the work of the Czech Canadian energy professor: “I wait for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next Star Wars movie.” Gates warns that the book, which shows how humans’ need for energy has shaped history and is shaping the future, is a dense read, but he promises that “at the end you’ll feel smarter and better informed about how energy innovation alters the course of civilizations.”