Bill Gates — My Top Reads of 2012

I read some amazing books this year. Every one of these books changed my worldview and I highly recommend them if you’re looking for inspiring reading.

—Bill Gates

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

How would you go about making the world a fundamentally better place? Eliminating violence, particularly violent deaths, would be a great start. Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker shows in his masterful new book just how violence is declining. It is a triumph of a book.

Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China

If you’re going to read one book about modern China in the period after Mao, then this is the book you should read. Though the book is framed around the rise of Deng Xiaoping and his reforms that transformed China into an economic powerhouse, Ezra Vogel’s compelling biography examines how China went from being a desperately poor country to certainly one of the two most important countries in the world today.

The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World

Recently I finished reading Daniel Yergin’s new book, The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World. It’s a valuable guide to the complex factors shaping the world’s energy needs, supplies and prices – even if a workout at over 800 pages.

Moonwalking with Einstein

I never thought much about whether I could improve my memory across a wider set of domains, but now I think I could, after reading Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by a young science writer, Joshua Foer. It’s absolutely phenomenal, one of the most interesting books I’ve read this summer.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

I just finished Katherine Boo’s book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers. It reads like a novel by Dickens, but is a real-life depiction of the challenges hundreds of millions of people face every day in urban slums. It’s also a reminder of the humanity that connects us all.

One Billion Hungry: Can we Feed the World?

Conway’s book is well organized, with chapters on hunger, agricultural innovation, and environmental challenges that can easily be read on their own. Feeding our growing world is fundamentally important to all of us, no matter where you live. If there’s one book I’d recommend reading to get the definitive story about the state of agriculture today and what we need to focus on to increase productivity and eliminate hunger, it would be One Billion Hungry.

A World-Class Education

Vivien Stewart in her book, A World Class Education, looks at five countries—Singapore, Canada, Finland, China, and Australia—where students are doing significantly better on global assessments than students in the U.S. Despite differences in the political systems and cultural contexts of these countries, there are some common policies and practices that drive success. Understanding how other countries are succeeding can offer insights that help us do a better job here in the U.S.

Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses

Before reading this book, I took it for granted that colleges were doing a very good job. But there is really no measurement or feedback system that tracks results, to help guide students and help institutions improve. Not overall, and not for individual courses of study. What do students in different programs learn, how many graduates get jobs in their field, how much do they earn? The outputs of higher education are a deeply understudied question.

This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly

An important book that will affect policy discussions for a long time to come, This Time Is Different exposes centuries of financial missteps.

The City that Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control

New York has shown that crime rates can be greatly reduced without increasing prison populations. New York teaches that targeted harm reduction strategies can drastically cut down on drug related violence even if illegal drug use remains high. And New York has proven that epidemic levels of violent crime are not hard-wired into the populations or cultures of urban America. This careful and penetrating analysis of how the nation’s largest city became safe rewrites the playbook on crime and its control for all big cities.

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