If you are considering giving books as holiday gifts to coworkers, clients, friends, or family this year, Bill Gates has a few recommendations for you. Gates, a notoriously voracious reader, says he read many great books in 2021. But those five were especially enjoyable, he writes, and would make great gifts.
Here are the books and why he loves them:
1. A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins
The way our brains work is a subject of endless fascination for many of us, Gates included. He has read many books on the brain, most of them academic. A thousand brains is appropriate for non-experts who have little experience in brain science or computer science, he writes. Hawkins was the co-inventor of the Palm Pilot, one of the early precursors of today’s smartphones. Since then, he has focused his attention on artificial intelligence, which means learning to understand the non-artificial intelligence that humans have.
Hawkins explores the neocortex, which makes up 70 percent of the brain and, according to him, consists of a column whose main function is to make constant predictions about the world around us and what our next sensory input will be. When these predictions fail, they get our full attention, and the neocortex strives to update this part of its model. Hawkins ‘point of view is consistent with other reviews I’ve read recently, such as Josh Davis’ observation that our brains seek to conserve energy by operating on autopilot most of the time.
2. The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, gene editing and the future of the human race by Walter Isaacson
“Every Isaacson book is good,” Gates says in an accompanying video. (Isaacson is best known for his biography of Steve Jobs.) This book tells the story of Doudna and his team’s discovery of the CRISPR gene-editing system, which Gates calls “one of the most interesting scientific breakthroughs. and perhaps the most important of the last decade. “Isaacson also does a good job of exploring ethical issues related to gene editing,” he adds.
3. Klara and the sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ishiguro is perhaps best known for his novel The leftovers of the day. Klara and the sun is told from the point of view of a robot in a dystopian future where the purpose of robots is to serve as companions to human beings, in this case a sick girl. “It’s probably healthier to talk to a robot than to just watch TV,” Gates says in the video, adding, “We’re going to have a lot of robots in our lives. He writes, “This book got me thinking about what life might be like with super intelligent robots – and whether we’ll treat these types of machines as pieces of technology or as something more.” I guess we’re going to treat them as something more, since we’re already doing that with things like Siri and Alexa.
4. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
We don’t know much about William Shakespeare, but one of the few things we do know is that he had a son named Hamnet who died at the age of eleven, and which Shakespeare wrote Hamlet (apparently a common variant of Hamnet) a few years later. O’Farrell focuses on Shakespeare’s children and his wife, left behind in Stratford-upon-Avon while Shakespeare works at the theater in London. The author assumes what their marriage might have looked like and how the tragedy of losing a child might have inspired The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.
“I would recommend it, it’s a good story,” Gates says in his video.
5. Hail Mary project by Andy Weir
Weir is best known for The Martian. In it, the protagonist is a high school science teacher who wakes up on a spaceship in a different star system with no idea how he got there. He soon realizes that he has been sent on a mission to save Earth from an alien threat. “It’s a fun read, and I finished it all in a weekend,” writes Gates.
You may have noticed that this makes two sci-fi novels on Gates Recommended Reading List. “When I was little, I was obsessed with science fiction,” he explains. “Paul Allen and I would spend countless hours discussing the Isaac Asimov original Foundation trilogy. As Gates grew up wanting his reading to be more educational, he began to read less fiction and more non-fiction. ,” he writes.
It’s a helpful reminder that it’s okay to read just for fun, especially while on vacation. So get one or more of these fun books, as a gift or just for yourself.