Self

4 Books That Bill Gates Read Twice

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bill gates

This month, I decided to turn pro as a writer. And inevitably, only a few days later, I realized that if I have to turn pro as a writer, I also have to turn pro as a reader. After all, there’s no writing if there’s no reading.

And I started thinking about all the facets of reading and how to optimize them. Of course, before you even begin reading, you have to choose what you read. There are hundreds of thousands of books on this planet! How do you decide which ones are worth your time?

Then, I realized that I need trustworthy recommendations. And that is when I remembered that a few months ago, I learned that Bill Gates himself has a very active Goodreads account. He’s rated over 220 books on Goodreads and has also written detailed reviews about most of them. It’s a freaking goldmine! —

Among those books, I learned that there are some books Bill Gates has even marked ‘read twice.’ And I just knew I had to read them.

Here are 4 books that Bill Gates has read twice:

1. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Let’s start with the one that even I have read twice, even before knowing that Bill read it twice. Now, if you want to call me the second Bill Gates based on this really, really tiny sliver of a coincidence, I won’t stop you.

Anyway, When Breath Becomes Air is the memoir of Paul Kalanithi. Paul was a neurosurgeon who, at age 36, was diagnosed with stage-4 lung cancer. As a doctor, he often read case histories of lung cancer patients that went something like, “a 36-year old male, walked in with complaints of chronic cough, weight loss, loss of appetite…” But he never thought he could be one of those cases himself. Until … he was.

A passionate doctor who had devoted and spent his life trying to save people was himself struggling to live. This book is Paul’s reflection on trying to answer the question — “What makes life worth living?” Everything about this book, right from the title, to the last line, is extremely profound. This book will truly move you and, at the same time, give you a lot to think about.

Being a Goodreads Choice Winner, here’s how Goodreads describes this book:

"When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both."

I read this book because a couple of years ago, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon as well. Since then, I have shifted to wanting to become a neuro-physician instead. However, doctor or not, this book is a must-read for everyone mortal. And that means you.

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2. How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenburg

Have you ever watched your math professor in high school and questioned, “When am I ever going to use what he’s teaching me in real life?” Well, you’re not alone; we’ve all been there.

However, as Jordan proves in this book, Mathematical thinking is perhaps the smartest thinking of all. As Jordan says in the book, classroom mathematics has lost perspective. They’re not really teaching you real maths. They’re just teaching how to be human calculators — and really, really sucky ones at that.

But as Jordan says, “Dividing one number by another is mere computation; knowing what to divide by what is mathematics.” He argues that Mathematical thinking is the extension of common sense. It’s common sense on steroids. I was a little skeptical at first, but through this book, Jordan proved each of his claims.

In this book, you will learn the power of mathematical thinking.

  • You will understand why America is trying to be more like Sweden when Sweden itself is trying to be less like Sweden.
  • You will learn how a few MIT students turned the lottery into a fool-proof investment strategy and made $8 million. Spoiler alert — they didn’t chant the prayers of luck but instead use maths to make money. And no, it wasn’t a scam.
  • You will learn how politicians subtly lie to the citizens.
  • You will see how flaws in the voting system caused Bush to win Florida's state, and hence, the 2000 election, even when more Floridians actually preferred Al Gore over Bush. There are more loopholes in a democracy than you thought, and maths will shine a light on them for you.

Truly, there’s Math in everyday life because Math is just the extension of common sense. Trust me; you want to extend your common sense. And hence, you want to read this book.

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3. Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

I was surprised to see this book in Bill Gates’ read column. Even more surprised to find out that he read it twice. But as it turns out, John Green is Bill’s youngest daughter Pheobe’s favorite author. And she converted the entire Gates family into his fans.

Turtles All The Way Down is the story of a high school student, Aza Holmes. When a local billionaire goes missing, Aza and her friend Daisy turn detectives in desire of the $100,000 cash prize(perhaps, why John decided Aza’s last name to be Holmes). But that quest is soon complicated by the fact Aza falls in love with the billionaire’s son.

But make no mistake, the book is not a thriller. Instead, it’s a way to stretch your perspective. This book will show you what the world looks like from two unique perspectives —

  • One — is the perspective of Aza Holmes, whose life is complicated by severe OCD and anxiety. What does life look like when a person’s thoughts overpower their life? What is it like to have your own thoughts closing in on you, like the walls of a claustrophobic room? This book offers that perspective. (I recommend the audiobook, instead of reading it, to better understand what that’s like. It’s aptly narrated.)
  • Two — the perspective of Davis Picket, the billionaire’s son. You might think it’s all fun and glory being the son of a billionaire. But this book shows what it’s like to constantly live in someone’s shadow; what it’s like to fear that you’ll never have your own identity.

Besides that, this story has its weird quirks — Daisy’s Star Wars fan fiction, a reptile called Tuatara, some astrophysics, and more. It’s a fun read. I recommend it, and so does Bill.

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4. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

The Best We Could Do is a book like you’ve never read before. It’s an illustrated memoir of the lives of multiple generations of Thi Bui’s family — one of the millions of families affected by the Vietnamese war. The memoir captures their intergenerational journey, from pre-war Vietnam to the survival during war, fleeing the country, their struggles at the refugee camp, and finally their immigration to America.

The stories are truly heartbreaking too. Once, Thi Bui’s mother went into labor while cooking at the refugee camp, but she finished cooking anyway, waited till everyone had a chance to eat, and only then announced that the baby was coming.

All in all, this book shows the devastating effect war leaves on a family and how it carries through generations. As a Gen Z kid who never liked to read history, I was ignorant of what our forefathers faced during the times of war. And now that I do, through Thi Bui’s excellent and courageous storytelling, I’m ever more grateful to live in a (somewhat) post-war era.

The illustrations in this book are beautiful. The stories — are devastating. It’s a quick read you’ll truly find worth reading. Viet Thanh Nguyen called it “A book to break your heart and heal it.” And I don’t think I can find better words to describe it accurately.

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Akshad Singi, M.D. has been published in Better Humans, Mind Cafe, and more. 

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.