Bill Gates’s 49 Favorite Books of the Decade

John Lamparski/Getty Images
John Lamparski/Getty Images

Each December, Bill Gates takes to his blog GatesNotes to look back at his reading trends from the year and recommend a few favorite books to the rest of us. He recently published his 2019 list, which includes Tayari Jones’s novel An American Marriage; Jill Lepore’s 800-page history of the United States, These Truths; and three other Gates-approved must-reads.

In looking back at all the books he has read this year, Gates noticed a rather uncharacteristic trend: he read much more fiction than usual. Though the only novel to make his recommendation list was An American Marriage, Gates also mentioned he’d finished A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion. He’s also working to get through the rest of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas before the end of the year; he thinks it’s “amazingly clever but a bit hard to follow.” And while he did read David Foster Wallace’s short story collection Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, he hasn’t read Infinite Jest, either.

If you’re thinking this sounds like a surprisingly normal, even relatable reading list for one of our biggest modern-day geniuses, don’t be fooled. Since we’re about to enter a new decade, CNBC took this opportunity to compile a list of all the books Gates has recommended since he started his yearly tradition in 2012—and the overall trend is quite Gatesian.

Many of the books take macro concepts and try to make sense of them by analyzing them on a micro scale, like Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, and How Asia Works. They tackle questions like “Why is college so expensive?” and “Can we end world hunger?” There are a few more fiction titles on the list—Thi Bui’s graphic novel The Best We Could Do and Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, for example—and several memoirs that might appeal to readers who gravitate toward more personal stories.

All things considered, Gates’s favorite books from the decade are wide-ranging and thought-provoking, and there’s likely a title or two for every type of reader.

Scroll on for the full list:

  1. An American Marriage // Tayari Jones ($12)
  2. These Truths // Jill Lepore ($14)
  3. Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities // Vaclav Smil ($31)
  4. Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life // Diane Tavenner ($25)
  5. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dream // Matthew Walker ($16)
  6. Educated: A Memoir // Tara Westover ($14)
  7. Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War // Paul Scharre ($27)
  8. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup // John Carreyrou ($16)
  9. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century // Yuval Noah Harari ($20)
  10. The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness // Andy Puddicombe ($20)
  11. The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir // Thi Bui ($18)
  12. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City // Matthew Desmond ($11)
  13. Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens // Eddie Izzard ($17)
  14. The Sympathizer // Viet Thanh Nguyen ($18)
  15. Energy and Civilization: A History // Vaclav Smil ($16)
  16. String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis // David Foster Wallace ($15)
  17. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike // Phil Knight ($18)
  18. The Gene: An Intimate History // Siddhartha Mukherjee ($13)
  19. The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age // Archie Brown ($17)
  20. The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future // Gretchen Bakke ($12)
  21. The Road to Character // David Brooks ($15)
  22. Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words // Randall Munroe ($16)
  23. Being Nixon: A Man Divided // Evan Thomas ($14)
  24. Sustainable Materials With Both Eyes Open (Without the Hot Air) // Julian M. Allwood and Jonathan M. Cullen ($29)
  25. Eradication: Ridding the World of Diseases Forever? // Nancy Leys Stepan ($25)
  26. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success // Carol S. Dweck ($11)
  27. The Vital Question // Nick Lane ($19)
  28. Business Adventures: 12 Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street // John Brooks ($15)
  29. Capital in the 21st Century // Thomas Piketty ($17)
  30. How Asia Works // Joe Studwell ($15)
  31. The Rosie Effect // Graeme Simsion ($21)
  32. Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization // Vaclav Smil ($39)
  33. The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger // Marc Levinson ($28)
  34. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention // William Rosen ($13)
  35. Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken From Nature // Vaclav Smil ($24)
  36. The World Until Yesterday // Jared Diamond ($16)
  37. Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do About It // Morten Jerven ($23)
  38. Why Does College Cost So Much? // Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman ($30)
  39. The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble Over Earth’s Future // Paul Sabin ($13)
  40. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined // Steven Pinker ($15)
  41. Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China // Ezra Vogel ($12)
  42. The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World // Daniel Yergin ($16)
  43. Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything // Joshua Foer ($26)
  44. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity // Katherine Boo ($12)
  45. One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World? // Gordon Conway ($20)
  46. A World-Class Education: Learning From International Models of Excellent and Innovation // Vivien Stewart ($14)
  47. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses // Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa ($17)
  48. This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly // Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff ($15)
  49. The City That Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control // Franklin Zimring ($17)

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The ChopBox Smart Cutting Board Has a Food Scale, Timer, and Knife Sharper Built Right Into It


When it comes to furnishing your kitchen with all of the appliances necessary to cook night in and night out, you’ll probably find yourself running out of counter space in a hurry. The ChopBox, which is available on Indiegogo and dubs itself “The World’s First Smart Cutting Board,” looks to fix that by cramming a bunch of kitchen necessities right into one cutting board.

In addition to giving you a knife-resistant bamboo surface to slice and dice on, the ChopBox features a built-in digital scale that weighs up to 6.6 pounds of food, a nine-hour kitchen timer, and two knife sharpeners. It also sports a groove on its surface to catch any liquid runoff that may be produced by the food and has a second pull-out cutting board that doubles as a serving tray.

There’s a 254nm UVC light featured on the board, which the company says “is guaranteed to kill 99.99% of germs and bacteria" after a minute of exposure. If you’re more of a traditionalist when it comes to cleanliness, the ChopBox is completely waterproof (but not dishwasher-safe) so you can wash and scrub to your heart’s content without worry. 

According to the company, a single one-hour charge will give you 30 days of battery life, and can be recharged through a Micro USB port.

The ChopBox reached its $10,000 crowdfunding goal just 10 minutes after launching its campaign, but you can still contribute at different tiers. Once it’s officially released, the ChopBox will retail for $200, but you can get one for $100 if you pledge now. You can purchase the ChopBox on Indiegogo here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

6 Things We Know About the Game of Thrones Prequel Series, House of the Dragon


By the time Game of Thrones wrapped up its record-breaking eight-season run in 2019, it was a no-brainer that HBO would be producing another GoT series to keep the success going. The first announced show in the works, which was reportedly picked from a few prequel ideas, was going to chronicle a time thousands of years before the start of GoT, and was set to star actress Naomi Watts. Unfortunately, that project was eventually scrapped after the pilot was shot—but a new prequel series, House of the Dragon, was announced in October 2019. Here's what we know about it so far.

1. House of the Dragon will be based on George R.R. Martin's book Fire & Blood.

George R.R. Martin's novel Fire & Blood, which tells the story of House Targaryen, will serve as the source of inspiration for the plot of House of the Dragon. The first of two volumes was published in 2018, and takes place 300 years before Game of Thrones.

2. House of the Dragon will likely chronicle the Targaryen family's tumultuous past.

Game of Thrones showed that the Targaryen family has a long-standing history of inbreeding, secrets, betrayal, war, and insanity. Fire & Blood covers topics like the first Aegon Targaryen's conquest of the Seven Kingdoms and his subsequent reign, as well as the lives of his sons. Seems like we'll probably be meeting Dany's ancestors, and Martin confirmed there will definitely be dragons present—maybe even Balerion the Black Dread, the biggest dragon in all of Westerosi history.

3. George R.R. Martin and Ryan Condal are co-creators of House of the Dragon.

Co-Executive Producer George R.R. Martin arrives at the premiere of HBO's 'Game Of Thrones' Season 3 at TCL Chinese Theatre on March 18, 2013 in Hollywood, California
George R.R. Martin
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Martin shared on his blog that he's been working with writer and producer Ryan Condal (Rampage, Colony), on the show. "Ryan Condal is new to Westeros, but not to me," the acclaimed author wrote. "I first met Ryan when he came to New Mexico to shoot a pilot for a fantasy western that was not picked up. I visited his set and we became friendly ... He’s a terrific writer … and a fan of my books since well before we met." In another blog post, Martin said that the show's script and bible were "terrific, first-rate, exciting." Sounds like we'll be in good hands.

5. A Game of Thrones director is returning for House of the Dragon.

Per a tweet from the Game of Thrones Twitter account announcing the show, Miguel Sapochnik, who directed many of the original HBO series' biggest episodes, such as "Battle of the Bastards" and "Hardhome," will be returning for House of the Dragon as showrunner alongside Condal. Sapochnik is also known for directing a handful of other notable shows, such as True Detective, Masters of Sex, and Altered Carbon.

6. House of the Dragon could be coming in 2022.

HBO ordered 10 episodes of House of the Dragon, and HBO president of programming Casey Bloys said he thought that the show would debut "sometime in 2022." However, with the film industry facing major delays due to safety concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, there's no word on when the show will begin filming.

Meanwhile, Martin revealed that he won't be writing any scripts for House of the Dragon until he finishes The Winds of Winter, which has been in the works since A Dance With Dragons, his most recent book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, debuted in 2011. The good news, however, is that Martin says he has been "writing every day" while keeping indoors and social distancing, leaving fans with the hope that The Winds of Winter will come soon.