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Bill Gates Recommends These 5 Books For 2020, ‘A Lousy Year’

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Bill Gates continued his annual tradition of recommending his top five favorite books on Tuesday. 2020 was, the billionaire wrote on GatesNotes, his personal blog, “a lousy year,” so he chose his favorites in the hopes that readers can end it on a “good note.”

“In tough times—those of us who love to read turn to all kinds of different books,” Gates wrote. “This year, sometimes I chose to go deeper on a difficult subject, like the injustices that underlie this year’s Black Lives Matter protests. Other times I needed a change of pace, something lighter at the end of the day.”

All of Gates’ picks are non-fiction, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) focus on science, systemic racism and how history relates to what the human race faces heading into 2021:

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. This unflinching examination of the cyclical and systemically unequal system of incarceration in America is “eye-opening,” Gates wrote, and despite being published 10 years ago, is more relevant than ever after protests against the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor “put Black Lives Matter front and center.” His takeaway? “We need a more just approach to sentencing and more investment in communities of color.”

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein. Based on his 2014 TedX talk, Epstein expands on his argument that despite the world’s seeming preference for specialists, it’s actually more people who are generalists, with “a breadth of different experiences,” that are needed. Gates notes that readers could come away believing that Epstein is too critical of specialists, but recommended “if you're enthusiastic about a hyperspecialized field like molecular biology or quantum physics, go for it”—while taking the time to explore other subjects.

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz, by Erik Larson. This historical account of England in 1940 and 1941 focuses on the Blitz, the nightly bombing of London by the Nazis during World War II. Calling it “relevant” despite not being pandemic-related, Gates draws a comparison between Brits huddling from bombs in their basements to the isolation most of us have experienced in 2020. Larson makes it clear that prime minister Winston Churchill’s leadership style got the British people through that awful period, an analysis that Gates commends, though he says “its scope is too narrow to be the only book you ever read on World War II.”

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, by Ben Macintyre. This true retelling of how Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB officer turned double agent for the U.K., helped prevent the Soviet Union from waging nuclear war against America in 1983 is “every bit as exciting as my favorite spy novels,” Gates wrote. A CIA agent reportedly unmasks Gordievsky to his Soviet handlers two years later, prompting the KGB officer to flee, which Gates described as “thrilling.” A useful context for Mcintyre’s book is “understanding the professional culture in which Vladimir Putin was raised,” Gates wrote, comparing the Russian president’s alleged interference during the 2016 presidential election to similar antics deployed against then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

Breath From Salt: A Deadly Genetic Disease, a New Era in Science, and the Patients and Families Who Changed Medicine, by Bijal P. Trivedi. This “truly uplifting” history of cystic fibrosis tells the story of how scientific innovation leads to medical breakthroughs, and twines with Gates’ own philanthropic efforts. A Microsoft colleague approached Gates in 1999 about investing in development of new CF drugs, explaining that two of his children had the disease and feared that their time was running out. The $20 million Gates committed to the project helped result in three highly effective medicines for CF patients described in the book, which “is especially meaningful to me because I know families who’ve benefited.”

This article was originally published by Lisette Voytko, forbes.com.

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