How to Read Books Like Bill Gates: Microsoft Founder's Reading List for Winter

Learn from the founder of Microsoft not only about some of the best books he recommends for this winter, but also about his tips to make the most of the books he reads.
Susan Fourtané
"My philosophy is that I'd rather have too much to read on a trip than too little." --Bill Gates

Seven years ago, Bill Gates decided to start a tradition that benefits everyone with a passion for knowledge and reading good books. Since then, the founder of Microsoft Corporation annually shares two lists of his selected and favorite works of non-fiction and fiction: A summer reading list and a winter reading list. Gates is a really passionate reader. He reads 50 books per year, finishing each book he starts as one of his rules. Sometimes, he would spend more time reading a book he disagrees with because it would take him more time to annotate his comments on the margin. In his personal blog, Gates Notes, he shares his book reviews and all related to the benefits of reading. 

Since it is now the end of the year and is winter in the northern hemisphere, from which this article is being written, anything better than destressing in a comfortable chair with a good cup of hot chocolate and one of Bill Gates' five recommended books to keep warm indoors from the cold season. Or, as Gates himself says: "To help you start 2020 on a good note."

An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones


An American Marriage made the list of Bill Gates' books for winter because, despite the heaviness of the subject matter, the story is thought-provoking and, as he says in his blog GatesNotes, he "got sucked into Roy and Celestial's tragic love story." 

This book has been called a masterpiece of storytelling by Oprah and others. More than just a novel, it is an exploration that goes deep into the souls and emotions of people; people who must reckon with the past while moving forward in their lives with hope, trying not to let pain leak into their future. A love story with suspense and racial injustice. This was a book recommended to Gates by his daughter, Jenn. 

The plot tells about newlyweds Celestial and Roy, a middle-class African-American couple who live in Atlanta. All of a sudden, their happy lives are torn apart when Roy is wrongfully convicted of a rape he did not commit. One thing that is fascinating is that Tayari Jones, who was researching mass incarceration in the United States for her novel, got the inspiration for the characters in the story by overhearing a young couple's argument in a shopping mall. Jones said in an interview with CBS This Morning that after the young woman said: "Roy, you know you wouldn't wait on me for seven years," she got the inspiration for the course she would give to her novel. An American Marriage is available here on Amazon.

These Truths, by Jill Lepore

In These Truths, Jill Lepore, author and Professor of American History at Harvard, offers a new look at America's story. She goes from the discovery of America in 1492 to the election of President Donald Trump  in just 800 pages. "She's made a deliberate choice to make diverse points of view central to the narrative, and the result is the most honest and unflinching account of the American story I've ever read," writes Gates. These Truths is available here on Amazon. 

Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities, by Vaclav Smil

Energy expert and polymath Vaclav Smil is a Professor at the University of Manitoba. He is one of the world's foremost thinkers and a master of statistical analysis. Vaclav Smil is one of Bill Gates' favorite thinkers. "Although Growth is a brilliant synthesis of everything we can learn from patterns of growth in the natural and human-made world, it's not for everyone," says Gates about the book. "Long sections read like a textbook or engineering manual." Well, this would make it for an interesting read for every engineer out there, then. The book also counts with 99 pages of references. Growth is available here

Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life, by Diane Tavenner 

At the 2013 SXSW Edu Conference, keynote speaker Bill Gates interviewed Diane Tavenner, CEO of Summit Public Schools. Back then she highlighted the ShowEvidence platform as an innovative tool for assessing student learning. According to Gates, Tavenner created a network of some of the best performing schools in the United States. In her book, Prepared, she has "put together a helpful guide about how to make that process as smooth and fruitful as possible," says Gates. Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life is available on Amazon.

Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker


Matthew Walker is a Professor of Neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of the book Why We Sleep. "Sleep is your life-support system, and Mother Nature's best effort yet at immortality," says Professor Walker. Sleep impacts your learning, memory, immune system, and the genetic code. "Walker has persuaded me to change my bedtime habits to up my chances," wrote Gates on his blog Gates Notes. For Gates, Why We Sleep "was one of the most interesting and profound" great books about human behavior he read this year. The only advice here is not to read this book before going to sleep or it will keep you awake, defeating all the intention of making you understand the paramount importance of sleep. Why We Sleep is available here on Amazon.

Demystifying sleep myths

If you suffer from sleeping problems, Matthew Walker also demystifies some of the most common sleep myths you have heard. According to Walker, things, like counting sheep, eating cheese before going to sleep, or listening to ocean sounds and white noise, have no real effect on how fast people will fall asleep, the quality of their sleep, or the presence of nightmares or dreams. People enjoy doing some of these things but there is no scientific data supporting it. However, he says that "meditation is incredibly powerful to help you fall asleep faster." 

So, now that we have gone through all the books, let's see how Bill Gates reads his books. Who knows, perhaps some of his advice inspires you to make the most out of your reading time and the books you have chosen for the season. Happy Reading! 

How Bill Gates reads books to get the most out of them 

Reading may seem to be an activity that we all approach in the same way. However, that is not true. The way we read a book depends on a series of factors. Non-fiction requires a different mindset and focus on reading a work of fiction. The relationship we establish with the book and the author while reading also contributes to the way we read a particular book. For Bill Gates, reading books is an integral part of his days. He loves reading and he loves getting the most out of the books he reads. 

  • Take notes in the margins: Taking notes makes him focus more and think hard about the topic he is reading. This is particularly true with works of non-fiction. If he disagrees with a point the author makes in the books, he writes his own viewpoint in the margin. 

  • Don't start what you can't finish: Bill Gates does not start a book unless he knows he is going to finish it. "It's my rule to get to the end," he says. 

  • Paper books Vs. ebooks: He thinks that over time he will make the switch. But for now, Gates enjoys reading paper magazines and books. Perhaps this is not too practical for some people, and the option of reading ebooks suits them better. 

  • Block out an hour per day: For Gates, reading a book is not something you can do five minutes here and five minutes there. You need to sit down with your book and devote an hour to it to be able to concentrate and ultimately enjoy it. "Every night I'm reading a little over an hour." 

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