By Nick Lane

“The Vital Question” explores the relationships between energy and genes. Despite its broad scope, the book’s fundamental interest also happens to be one of science’s greatest mysteries: How did life on Earth begin?

Lane, a biochemist, does an excellent job of illuminating and breaking down the complexities of biology. “He’s so intriguing,” Gates says in the video. “He seems to be the first guy who has looked into certain weird things about the mitochondria and has all sorts of ideas about diseases that really bear looking into.”

By Yuval Noah Harari

Gates isn’t the only person who enjoyed “Sapiens.” The book received a rating of 4.5 out of five stars (based on more than 500 reviews) on Google Play Books. Harari, a historian and philosopher, takes a look at the many possible reasons why Homo sapiens are so successful.

While Gates found things to disagree with — “especially Harari’s claims that humans were better off before we started farming,” he admits that the book gives us a better “understanding of what it means to be human.” (Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg also included “Sapiens” in their lists of favorites.)

By Jordan Ellenberg

Ultimately, Gates says, this book is “a series of stories about how a lot of the apparently non-mathematical systems that underpin our daily lives are actually deeply mathematical, and people couldn’t develop them until they started asking the right questions.”

You don’t have to love math to enjoy “How to Not Be Wrong.” For what sounds like a potentially boring read, Gates praises Ellenberg’s ability to write about a complicated subject in a way that’s “funny, smooth and accessible.”

by Ryoichi and Hiroshi Mikitani

This book is centrally about Japanese economic prosperity from the perspectives of an economist and an entrepreneur. The authors, a father-son duo, examine the country’s core issues (i.e., its economy, education system, public infrastructure) and explore different solutions that could lead to revitalization.

It makes sense to see “The Power to Compete” on Gates’ list of must-reads: “I’ve had a soft spot for Japan that dates back three decades or so, when I first traveled there for Microsoft,” he says.

By Neal Stephenson

“Seveneves” begins with a catastrophic event: The moon just exploded — what happens next? In a race against time, global leaders work together to save humanity by launching spacecrafts beyond our atmosphere. This one is quite a gem, considering that you won’t find a ton of hard sci-fi novels on any of Gates’ book lists.

Unfortunately, neither Jeff Bezos nor Elon Musk makes an appearance, but Gates still calls it a “magnificent” and “visionary” read.

Whether or not your book topic interests align with Gates’, he says there’s no science or math to his selection process. They’re “all simply ones that I loved and made me think in new ways,” he says.

(And anyway, if you’re going to let something keep you up at night, a book sounds a lot better than stress or anxiety.)

Tom Popomaronis is a commerce expert and proud Baltimore native. Currently, he is the Senior Director of Product Innovation at the Hawkins Group. His work has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company and The Washington Post. In 2014, he was named one of the “40 Under 40” by the Baltimore Business Journal.

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