For his favorite books of 2021, Bill Gates is throwing it back to his childhood love of science fiction.
“There was something so thrilling to me about these stories that pushed the limits of what was possible,” he wrote in a blog post that continues an annual tradition of spotlighting books he loved during the year.
Two of the Microsoft
co-founder’s book picks are science fiction, both of which made him “think about how people can use technology to respond to challenges,” Gates wrote.
The list also includes a pair of nonfiction books about cutting-edge science: artificial intelligence and gene editing. Gates’ final pick is a novel about how Shakespeare’s personal life might have influenced “Hamlet.”
Here are his reading recommendations.
‘Project Hail Mary’
Gates finished this novel in one weekend.
“The Martian” author Andy Weir tells the story of a high school science teacher who wakes up alone on a spaceship in a different star system with no memory of how he got there.
The protagonist reminds Gates of Mark Watney from “The Martian,” and both sci-fi tales deal with how people work together in challenging situations.
“I recommend the book for anyone who is in the mood for a fun diversion,” Gates wrote. “I started it on a Saturday and finished it on Sunday, and it was a great way to spend a weekend.”
‘Klara and the Sun’
Gates says he loves a good robot story, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel “Klara and the Sun” is one. The book is set in a dystopian future where robots serve as companions. Klara is an “artificial friend” to a sick young girl, Josie.
The British novelist won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature and is best known for the novels “The Remains of the Day” and “Never Let Me Go.” Gates said although Ishiguro doesn’t claim to be a technologist or futurist, his perspective on artificial life is “provocative nonetheless.”
“This book made me think about what life with super intelligent robots might look like — and whether we’ll treat these kinds of machines as pieces of technology or as something more,” Gates wrote.
‘A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence’
Gates says he’s fascinated by “how the cells and connections in our brains give rise to consciousness and our ability to learn.”
He calls “A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence” much more theoretical than many of the books he’s read about the brain written by academic neuroscientists. It’s written by tech entrepreneur Jeff Hawkins, the co-inventor of the PalmPilot.
The book is appropriate for non-experts and is “filled with fascinating insights into the architecture of the brain and tantalizing clues about the future of intelligent machines,” he wrote.
“If you’re interested in learning more about what it might take to create a true AI, this book offers a fascinating theory,” Gates wrote.
‘The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race’
Gates is well-versed in the world of CRISPR gene editing, the system that allows scientists to alter human and other genomes, because the Gates Foundation funds a number of projects that use the technology. But even still, he said this “comprehensive and accessible book” taught him a lot about the system’s discovery and its ethical implications.
The book’s title suggests it’s a biography of the Nobel Prize-winning biochemist who discovered the system, Jennifer Doudna. But author Walter Isaacson also features other CRISPR researchers and highlights crucial ethical questions around gene editing.
“‘Code Breaker’ is highly accessible for non-scientists,” Gates wrote. “And that’s super important, because the ethics of CRISPR’s use are not clear.”
If you’re a Shakespeare fan, Gates says you’ll love this novel about how Shakespeare’s personal life might have influenced “Hamlet.” The story centers on two facts known to be true — Shakespeare’s son Hamnet died at the age of 11, and a few years later he wrote a tragedy called “Hamlet.”
Author Maggie O’Farrell explores the days leading up to Hamnet’s death and focuses on Agnes Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife, and their three children.
“You know from the beginning that Hamnet’s story is going to end in tragedy,” Gates wrote. “It’s a testament to how talented of a writerO’Farrell is that you can’t but believe it might turn out differently and that Agnes might save him.”
Gates recommends the novel both to those familiar with Shakespeare’s writing and those who haven’t read any of his work since high school. It’s a surprisingly easy read, he found — emotional rather than depressing.