Microsoft founder Bill Gates has traditionally shared on his blog a selection of five books he loved this year and therefore recommended reading during the holiday season. In 2021, the list includes two science-fiction stories, a pair of non-fiction books, and a novel.
He said that he loved science-fiction books as a child. Together with Paul Allen, he could spend hours discussing Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy. He also read all the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert Heinlein. These stories were thrilling to him as they pushed the limits of what was possible.
As he grew older, Gates became fond of non-fiction books since he felt it was important to learn something about the real world as well. Gates noted that this year, he found himself drawn to the books he would have liked as a kid.
1. A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence, by Jeff Hawkins
In his book, neuroscientist and tech entrepreneur Jeff Hawkins introduces a new theory about how the brain and artificial intelligence work. The author explains in detail how people perceive the world, analyzes how the human brain works, and reflects on what it takes to create a true AI. This book is suitable for a wide range of readers, including those who have no experience in brain or computer science.
2. The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, by Walter Isaacson
This book is the biography of Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Jennifer Doudna, who discovered the CRISPR gene editing system. The book was written by Isaacson, who was also Steve Jobs's biographer. Gates says that this book is more than just a story about Doudna's scientific career and discoveries – it examines in detail the potential applications of the CRISPR system as well as highlights the most important ethical issues regarding the phenomenon.
3. Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro
According to Gates, Ishiguro's novel about the life of an “artificial friend” to a sick young girl makes us think about what our future with smart machines will be like and how people will perceive them. The story is set in the dystopian future.
4. Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell
We know that Shakespeare had a son named Hamnet, who died when he was 11 for unknown reasons. A couple of years later, Shakespeare wrote the most iconic tragedy in the history of world literature – Hamlet. In this book, Maggie O’Farrell discusses how the loss of a child could be associated with Hamlet.
5. Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir
The main character of this book is a high school science teacher who finds himself in a different star system and has no idea how he got there. Throughout the story, the teacher will use engineering and science to save the day. Gates says one can read this book in one weekend.