Story at a glance

  • Bill Gates has revealed his annual summer reading list.
  • This year, the overarching theme is “the complicated relationship between humanity and nature.”
  • Some of the recommendations include “A Promised Land” by Barack Obama and “An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives” by Matt Richtel.

Bill Gates has revealed his annual summer reading list and this year has an overarching theme: “The complicated relationship between humanity and nature,” he announced in a blog post on Monday.

“Maybe it’s because everyone’s lives have been upended by a virus. Or maybe it’s because I’ve spent the last couple months talking about what we need to do to avoid a climate disaster,” Gates wrote. “Whatever the reason, most of the books on my summer reading list this year touch on what happens when people come into conflict with the world around them.”


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“Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future” by Elizabeth Kolbert

The first book to make the list comes from author Elizabeth Kolbert, a Pulitzer Prize-winning staff writer for The New Yorker. In “Under a White Sky,” Kolbert examines the issues facing coral reefs, gene editing and geoengineering, and possible courses of action that can be taken to address them. 

“I’m glad that smart writers like Elizabeth are reminding us of the risks of trying to intervene in nature,” Gates wrote. “But I wish she had also explored whether the risks are worth taking, or what the alternatives might be.” 

“A Promised Land” by Barack Obama

The former president's 2020 memoir follows his life from his early days to the 2011 military operation during his presidency that killed Osama bin Laden.

“You have to be a pretty self-aware person to write a candid autobiography—something that politicians aren’t exactly known for. Fortunately, President Obama isn’t like most politicians,” Gates wrote. “A Promised Land is a refreshingly honest book. He isn’t trying to sell himself to you or claim he didn’t make mistakes. It’s a terrific read, no matter what your politics are.” 

“Lights Out: Pride, Delusion, and the Fall of General Electric” by Thomas Gryta and Ted Mann 

“Lights Out” examines General Electric from conception to present, and the troubles it has faced along the way. 

“It turns out that culture of making the numbers at all costs gave rise to ‘success theater’ and “chasing earnings,’” Gates wrote. “In Gryta and Mann’s words, ‘Problems [were] hidden for the sake of preserving performance, thus allowing small problems to become big problems before they were detected.’”


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“The Overstory” by Richard Powers

The 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, “The Overstory” features nine stories where the characters’ lives are intertwined with trees.

“The book made me want to learn more about trees,” Gates wrote. “You don’t need any special knowledge to follow the story, but it left me super curious about the subject. There’s a certain elegance to how trees fit into their ecosystems. It’s amazing that they live for so long—the oldest tree in the world is over 4,800 years old!—despite being stationary.”

“An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives” by Matt Richtel

Written and published prior to the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the world, in “An Elegeant Defense” Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Matt Richtel relays the stories of four people and their fraught relationships with health and the human immune system. 

“In the course of telling the story of his friend Jason Greenstein’s cancer, Richtel describes effective new treatments that help our immune systems target our own cells that have gone rogue,” Gates wrote. “Through the stories of lupus patient Merredith Branscombe and rheumatoid arthritis patient Linda Segre, Richtel helps us understand new drugs that tamp down the immune system for those who suffer from debilitating autoimmune disorders.”


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Published on Jun 15, 2021