Return to the talk Return to talk

Bill and Melinda Gates recommend

The philanthropists each pick five books that have profoundly shaped their work.

Bill Gates' recommended reading

Each of the books on my list had a big impact on my thinking and really informed my work. The first four are quite optimistic about our ability to make the world a better place, while Vaclav Smil's "Energy Myths and Realities" makes clear that if we hope to address climate change, we’ll have to transform our energy infrastructure — and that will be harder than most of us might realize.

  • item

    The Better Angels of Our Nature

    Steven Pinker
    Penguin Books, 2012

    Steven Pinker’s carefully researched study stands out as one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Pinker paints a remarkable picture showing that the world has evolved over time to be a far less violent place than before. It offers a fresh perspective on how to achieve positive outcomes in the world. A thoroughly worthwhile read.

  • item

    Getting Better

    Charles Kenny
    Basic Books, 2012

    I know from personal experience that stepping into the public square to announce that foreign aid is important and effective can be lonely work. Charles Kenny’s elegant book on the impact of aid carefully documents how the quality of life — even in the world’s poorest countries — has improved dramatically over the past several decades. With reams of solid data to support his case, he argues that governments and aid agencies have played an important role in this progress.

  • item

    Behind the Beautiful Forevers

    Katherine Boo
    Random House Trade, 2014

    Katherine Boo spent three years getting to know the people of Annawadi, a slum of about 3,000 people on the edge of a sewage-filled lake in India’s largest city. Her book is a poignant reminder of how much more work needs to be done to address the inequities in the world. But it’s also an uplifting story of people striving to make a life for themselves, sacrificing for their families, and in their own way, being innovative and entrepreneurial in creating a vibrant local economy.

  • item

    The Man Who Fed the World

    Leon Hesser
    Durban House Press, 2010

    The subject of this book, Norm Borlaug, is one of my heroes — and Leon Hesser’s biography is a fascinating account of Borlaug’s life and accomplishments. This is a story of genius, self-sacrifice and determination. Borlaug was a remarkable scientist and humanitarian whose work in agriculture is rightfully credited with saving the lives of over a billion people.

  • item

    Energy Myths and Realities

    Vaclav Smil
    American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 2010

    Vaclav Smil is probably my favorite living author. If you care about energy issues, I recommend this volume, though its unvarnished look at the realities of energy use and infrastructure may be disconcerting to anyone who thinks solving our energy problems will be easy. Smil provides a rational framework for evaluating energy promises and important lessons to keep in mind if we’re to avert the looming climate crisis.

Melinda Gates' recommended reading

Those of us interested in development spend a lot of time thinking about what it takes to translate a great idea into results on the ground. Each of these books has helped deepen my understanding of how the global development community can drive and sustain meaningful change, even in the face of difficult circumstances. Together, they paint a portrait of a world where progress is achievable if we work together and learn from each other.

  • item

    The Last Hunger Season

    Roger Thurow
    PublicAffairs, 2013

    Roger Thurow movingly chronicles the lives of four Kenyan farmers as they struggle to support their families through the wanjala, which is Swahili for 'hunger season.' This book is about the importance of investing in Africa’s smallholder farmers and is also a compelling blueprint for doing it effectively. Thurow shows how, together, we can make this wanjala the last one.

  • item

    However Long the Night

    Aimee Molloy
    HarperOne, 2013

    This is the story of an extraordinary woman, Molly Melching. For more than 40 years, Melching has worked in Senegalese communities to help improve lives for some of the country’s poorest people. Her success is based on her insistence on working in close partnership with local communities. That way, change is always driven from the center out, not the top down. This book reinforced my own belief that developing communities already have the potential and desire to spark the change that will lead to better lives for themselves and their families.

  • item

    In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez

    Michael Griffin and Jennie Weiss Block (Editors)
    Orbis Books, 2013

    Paul Farmer is a longtime friend of mine, and through these pages, you can hear his voice and feel his deep personal connection to improving lives for people who are too often ignored. You also get a sense of his (and Father Gutiérrez’s) intellectual commitment to changing the systems that lead to poverty, so that their work has a permanent impact.

  • item

    Change by Design

    Tim Brown
    HarperCollins, 2009

    Design thinking is a model of problem solving that could have huge implications for global health and development. It’s an approach that recognizes that the people facing challenges have the best understanding of what solutions will really work for them — so we need to invite them to participate in the design process as well. So many of the women and families I meet already have the potential to lift themselves out of poverty. Design thinking reminds us that to unlock this opportunity, we have to first enlist their help.

  • item

    Mighty Be Our Powers

    Leymah Gbowee
    Beast Books, 2013

    In 2011, Leymah Gbowee became a global figure when she won a Nobel Prize for launching a grassroots women’s movement that led to peace in Liberia. This is an amazing tale of a group of women coming together to change the course of a country’s history — and it’s also the inspiring story of how Gbowee overcame her own doubts and fears and found the courage to lead them.