Bill Gates took up meditation this year. (Yes, it’s been stressful for all of us.) Among the titles on the Microsoft founder’s best books of 2018 list is “The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness,” by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, who started the Headspace meditation app.
Gates, who once dismissed the practice “as a woo-woo thing tied somehow to reincarnation,” says that after picking up Puddicombe’s 2011 book this summer he now meditates two or three times a week, for about 10 minutes at a time. He and his wife, Melinda, “use comfortable chairs; there’s no way I could do the lotus position,” he writes on his blog Gates Notes.
Among the billionaire’s other favorite pastimes: reading. Gates reads roughly 50 books a year, and over the past few Decembers he’s shared a list of those that have influenced him most.
As you might expect, Gates leans toward big-think books about science, economics and leadership, but over the past couple of years his tastes have loosened — last year he featured a memoir by the transgender activist and comedian Eddie Izzard and a graphic novel; in 2016 he included “String Theory,” a collection of essays by David Foster Wallace about tennis. This year’s list, which Gates calls “eclectic” and “highly giftable,” features a couple of books that are cautionary tales for unchecked technology. Cue the deep, cleansing breaths.
1. “Educated,” by Tara Westover (Random House). I never thought I’d relate to a story about growing up in a Mormon survivalist household, but Tara Westover is such a good writer that she got me to reflect on my own life while reading about her extreme childhood. Westover, who never went to school or visited a doctor until she left home at 17, ended up getting a Ph.D. from Cambridge University.
2. “Army of None,” by Paul Scharre (Norton). Autonomous weapons aren’t exactly top of mind for most around the holidays, but this thought-provoking look at A.I. in warfare is hard to put down. It’s an immensely complicated topic, but Scharre offers clear explanations and presents both the pros and cons of machine-driven warfare. His fluency with the subject should come as no surprise: he’s a veteran who helped draft the U.S. government’s policy on autonomous weapons.
3. “Bad Blood,” by John Carreyrou (Knopf). A bunch of my friends recommended this one to me. Carreyrou gives you the definitive insider’s look at the rise and fall of Theranos, the health tech company that claimed it could perform an array of medical tests from a small amount of blood. The story is even crazier than I expected, and I found myself unable to put it down once I started. This book has everything: elaborate scams, corporate intrigue, magazine cover stories, ruined family relationships and the demise of a company once valued at nearly $10 billion.
4. “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” by Yuval Noah Harari (Spiegel & Grau). I’m a big fan of everything Harari has written, and his latest is no exception. While “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus” covered the past and future respectively, this one is all about the present. If 2018 has left you overwhelmed by the state of the world, “21 Lessons” offers a helpful framework for processing the news and thinking about the challenges we face.
5. “The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness,” by Andy Puddicombe (St. Martin’s Griffin). I’m sure 25-year-old me would scoff at this one, but Melinda and I have gotten really into meditation lately. The book starts with Puddicombe’s personal journey from a university student to a Buddhist monk and then becomes an entertaining explainer on how to meditate. If you’re thinking about trying mindfulness, this is the perfect introduction.
Nora Krug is an editor and writer at Book World.