The Only Four Books Bill Gates Has Rated Five Stars

Oct 04, 2020
 Image created by the author — original from Wikimedia Commons


When checking out the reviews for Jared Diamond’s Upheaval, the last name I expected at the top was the $100 billion Microsoft founder. I assumed it was a spoof account, surely he is too busy saving the world to have time for this kind of thing.

But in reality, Bill Gates is providing fascinating insights in reviews himself on Goodreads.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of books with catchy titles and interesting blurbs that are mediocre. I’ve fallen prey to many of them myself. It’s what makes the allure of curated lists so powerful. People want recommendations from those who are successful and we feel we can trust. You’ll find many lists of Bill Gates’s recommendations online.

But I stumbled on a goldmine. He’s tracked 233 books and of all these only four received top marks. He’s a harsh critic with Yuval Noah Hariri’s 21 Lessons For The 21st Century earning only 3 stars.

They are all about how to make this world a better place and align with his philanthropy through the Melinda Gates Foundation. If you want to think like Bill Gates, read more about the world and less about how to make money.

I’ve read the exclusive books before and cannot question the inspiration and education they provide. If you haven’t yet, I hope you read these books and expand your mind.


Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker

Bill Gates ended his review by calling this book his “new favorite book of all time”. Steven Pinker is a multiple-time best-seller but there’s no way he isn’t bragging about that to his grandkids.

It’s broken down into 15 chapters about different measures of progress throughout history. These build a compelling case that now is the best time to be alive. The news bombards us with what’s wrong in society so we rarely appreciate what is right. I’d never trade my life for one at any other time.

One stat Bill highlights is:Time spent doing laundry fell from 11.5 hours a week in 1920 to an hour and a half in 2014”. People sometimes crave a return to a simpler life but would you want to trade 10 hours of your life for laundry? Shifts like this in the last century have helped free women from the shackles of domestic labor.

Steven never suggests society is perfect but seeing how much progress we’ve made can give us hope and the motivation to keep going. Within my lifetime, I’ve especially seen the incredible enlightenment in how mental illnesses are viewed.


Educated By Tara Westover

This is a beautiful story of a woman who overcame extreme odds through education. Bill admits her “ability to learn on her own blows” him right out of the water.

Tara’s father held toxic views about the progress of modern society and stopped his children from going to school. One of her brothers physically and psychologically abused her throughout her childhood. When Tara finally told her parents, they accused her of being a liar possessed by Satan.

With this upbringing, it’s almost unbelievable she scored high enough on the ACT to win a scholarship to college through self-study. And she went despite the violent protests from her family. She graduated with honors then was awarded a Gates Scholarship to attend the University of Cambridge for her Masters and Ph.D.

Tara would have seemed naive and stupid to most at 16. Her transformation is a crushing blow for those who believe anyone is a lost hope. When we have access to opportunities that others don’t, how can we look down on them? How many Taras exist in the world who weren’t able to escape and how much poorer is society because of it?

We can all learn from looking through her eyes:

“Education is really just a process of self-discovery — of developing a sense of self and what you think. I think of [it] as this great mechanism of connecting and equalizing.”

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think — Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, and Anna Rosling Ronnlund

I love the opening of this book. It’s a multiple choice quiz about the state of the world and I got more wrong than I got right. It makes this book “fantastic” in Bill Gates’s words. It challenges you to see everything as it is rather than through the biases you’ve accumulated throughout your life.

Do you still think of countries as split between developed and developing countries? Hans proves this mental model is a useless representation of reality. Bill Gates who has spent decades trying to lift people out of poverty calls the model in Factfulness a “breakthrough” and will use it himself.

The truth is there’s a huge difference between someone earning $1 and $4 a day. The first person struggles to avoid starvation. The second can save up for larger purchases like bicycles which make their lives far easier. The number of people in the first group has halved in the past 20 years, an unprecedented gain for humanity that we can miss from our high castle.

Hans focuses on how much change like this doesn’t make the news because it’s incremental. After reading this, I seek out the trends behind the headlines. Yes, there is still evil in this world but there is also so much good.


The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World — Melinda Gates

Yes, this one is cheating but Bill Gates handles it in good humor:

“I would say this even if I weren’t married to the author: The Moment of Lift is a terrific read. It is a wise, honest, and beautifully written book about how empowering women lifts up everyone.” — Bill Gates

I’m not married to Melinda Gates but can support her husband’s views. I learned the importance of female empowerment in raising living standards through Development As Freedom by Amartya Sen in high school. Somehow this still isn’t a mainstream view and Melinda expertly explains why it should be.

As the saying goes, two heads are better than one and the brainpower of a village can be doubled instantly by listening to women’s views. Each child has a greater chance of a fulfilling life when women’s voices are heard over the timing and number of their children. The scarce resources available to them can feed a few children well rather than many poorly.

I recommend you read Bill’s review in full because of his glowing admiration for his wife. It’s not all emotion though and he highlights everything Melinda says is backed up by data. There’s no greater way to learn about the Gates family and the way they think about philanthropy than this book. It will inspire you to believe we can change the world for the better.

Amar's Letter

Real talk on driving impact as an imperfect human.