Bill Gates is much more than your run-of-the-mill multi-billionaire. He also recommends books for you to read. BONUS!—his list comes with a cute video.
Gates is, undeniably, a really smart guy. But his summer reading list leaves a lot to be desired. For starters, it’s totally predictable. If the East Coast and West Coast elites have such things as book clubs, there’s not a title on Gates’ list that wouldn’t appeal.
Doubtless everyone in Martha’s Vineyard will be reading what Bill is reading. But the rest of us might care for something other than what passes for orthodoxy with Bill’s crowd. So here is Bill’s list and my “unorthodox” alternative selections.
1. Happy Healthcare
Bill loves Obamacare, so naturally his list includes Reinventing American Health Care: How the Affordable Care Act Will Improve Our Terribly Complex, Blatantly Unjust, Outrageously Expensive, Grossly Inefficient, Error Prone System, by Ezekiel J. Emanuel. “Emanuel,” Bill explains, “helped design the Affordable Care Act, and explains why the old system needed reform.” But if what the solution was worse than the problem?
This May, the Washington Post reported:
In just one week, a barrage of national polling has reached the same verdict: Obamacare’s Rocky Balboa-esque announcement that 8 million people have signed up for health care has done absolutely nothing to reverse the law’s basic and long-standing unpopularity.
Not everyone can afford their own boutique physician, after all. So what about those folks who don’t want a book lecturing them on why they should love Obamacare? My suggestion: Why ObamaCare is Wrong for America: How the New Health Care Law Drives Up Costs, Puts Government in Charge of Your Decisions, and Threatens Your Constitutional Rights, by Grace-Marie Turner, et al.
2. More Government Makes Sense
If anyone’s too big to fail, it’s Bill Gates. And, so, letting Washington politicians ride roughshod over the financial system doesn’t faze him. Thus he recommends Stress Test, by Timothy F. Geithner. Obama’s former Treasury Secretary argues that Washington has “unique powers” to reduce the perils of a fiscal crisis.
But if you are not a fan of the stimulus, sequester, and the long, painful recession endured under this president, you might want to look elsewhere for ideas about how much government we want in our lives. How about The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes? She makes a compelling argument that more government intervention is likely to produce more misery than anything else.
#3 Acceptable Heroes
Looking for a manly president they can call their own, many progressives have settled on Teddy Roosevelt. Lo and behold, we find Doris Kearns’ The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism on Gates’ list. Kearns focuses on how the White House can drive “social change.”
If you prefer a president who spends more time protecting the nation than acting like “Big Brother,” there is always Reagan. Try the recent Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours That Ended the Cold War, by Ken Adelman.
#4 Doing Business
It’s hard to question a business billionaire’s judgment on business. Bill likes Business Adventures by John Brooks, a book first published in 1969. Since then, business has seen one or two developments—things like, you know, computers, the Internet, globalization.
If you want to read a “timeless” book about business, how about Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, the penultimate cautionary tale about the dangers of corporatism?
#5. Global Warming et al.
Gates worries that humans will be the end of humanity. So, Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History makes his list. “Natural scientists posit that there have been five extinction events in the Earth’s history (think of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs), and Kolbert makes a compelling case that human activity is leading to the sixth,” Gates writes.
For something really interesting, you might consider Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. It illustrates the folly of simplicity. Diamond lists a daunting 12 factors that historically contributed to the collapse of a society–and these are only the factors directly controlled by humans. Collapse illustrates the immense difficulty of mapping cause and effect in complex human-environment systems. Moreover, Diamond shows how applying lessons from the past to future problems is complicated by the fact that both human institutions and the natural environment are continually changing and changing each other. It’s a valuable cautionary tale for those who would rely on predictive models to interpret the behavior of complex systems.
#6. Listen to Your Wife.
The Rosie Project: A Novel by Graeme Simsion is on the list because Mrs. Gates was reading it. Bill admits it’s a “beach read.”
The anti-beach read is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This is one of the grimmest, most beautiful books ever written in the English language. It paints a bleak picture of what the modern world will look like if we get it all wrong.
Gates has his list to make the world a better place. I think the world needs a better list.