For his favorite books of 2021, Bill Gates refers to his childhood love for science fiction.
“There was something so exciting to me about these stories that pushed the boundaries of what was possible,” he wrote in a blog post that continues an annual tradition of highlighting the books he loved during the year.
Two of Microsoft’s MSFTs,
The co-founder’s book picks are science fiction, which both got him “thinking about how people can use technology to meet challenges,” Gates wrote.
The list also includes a pair of non-fiction books on cutting edge science: artificial intelligence and gene editing. Gates’ Final Pick is a novel about how Shakespeare’s personal life may have influenced “Hamlet”.
Here are his reading recommendations.
“Hail Mary Project”
Gates finished this novel in a weekend.
“The Martian” author Andy Weir tells the story of a high school science teacher who wakes up alone on a spaceship in a different star system with no memory of how he got there.
The protagonist reminds Gates of Mark Watney of “The Martian,” and both sci-fi tales deal with how people work together in difficult situations.
“I recommend the book to anyone in the mood for a fun diversion,” Gates wrote. “I started it on a Saturday and finished it on Sunday, and it was a great way to spend a weekend.”
“Klara and the sun”
Gates says he likes a good robot story, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel “Klara and the Sun” is one of them. The book is set in a dystopian future where robots serve as companions. Klara is an “artificial friend” of a sick young girl, Josie.
The British novelist won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature and is best known for the novels “The Remains of the Day” and “Never Let Me Go”. Gates said that while Ishiguro doesn’t claim to be a technologist or futurist, his take on artificial life is “nonetheless provocative.”
“This book got me thinking about what life might be like with super intelligent robots – and whether we’ll treat these types of machines as pieces of technology or as something more,” Gates wrote.
“A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence”
Gates says he is fascinated by “the way cells and connections in our brain give rise to consciousness and our ability to learn.”
He calls “A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence” much more theoretical than most of the books he has read on the brain written by academic neuroscientists. It is written by tech entrepreneur Jeff Hawkins, the co-inventor of the PalmPilot.
The book is suitable for non-experts and is “filled with fascinating information about the architecture of the brain and tantalizing clues about the future of intelligent machines,” he wrote.
“If you’re interested in learning more about what it takes to create real AI, this book offers a fascinating theory,” Gates wrote.
“The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, gene editing and the future of the human race”
Gates is familiar with the world of CRISPR gene editing, the system that allows scientists to modify human and other genomes, as the Gates Foundation funds a number of projects that use this technology. But even still, he said that this “comprehensive and accessible book” had taught him a lot about the discovery of the system and its ethical implications.
The title of the book suggests that it is a biography of the Nobel Prize-winning biochemist who discovered the system, Jennifer Doudna. But author Walter Isaacson also introduces other CRISPR researchers and highlights crucial ethical questions regarding gene editing.
“‘Code Breaker’ is very accessible for non-scientists,” Gates wrote. “And this is super important, because the ethics of using CRISPR are not clear.”
If you’re a Shakespeare fan, Gates says you’ll love this novel about how Shakespeare’s personal life may have influenced “Hamlet”. The story centers on two facts known to be true: Shakespeare’s son Hamnet died at the age of 11 and a few years later wrote a tragedy called “Hamlet”.
Author Maggie O’Farrell explores the days leading up to Hamnet’s death and focuses on Agnes Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife, and their three children.
“You’ve known from the start that Hamnet’s story is going to end in tragedy,” Gates wrote. “It’s a testament to the talent of an O’Farrell writer that you can only believe it could turn out differently and Agnes could save him.”
Gates recommends the novel to those familiar with Shakespeare’s writing and to those who haven’t read any of his works since high school. It’s surprisingly easy to read, he found – emotional rather than depressing.