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With over 400,000 monthly readers and more than 93,000 subscribers to our popular weekly digest, we've become an online intellectual hub.
Farnam Street helps you make better decisions, innovate, and avoid stupidity.
With over 400,000 monthly readers and more than 93,000 subscribers to our popular weekly digest, we've become an online intellectual hub.
You like to read? So does Bill Gates. And he reads a lot.
Here’s a brief look at what he reads on topics such as education, energy, finance, and development.
Work Hard, Be Nice “Jay did a great job writing this book. The book gives a great sense of how hard it was to get KIPP going and how intense the focus on good teaching is.”
Liberating Learning “…an important book that focuses on how technology will change K-12 education in the United States. ”
Education Economics “…This may be more critical now than ever before, because growth in education spending is leveling off and budgets are even being cut.”
Stretching the School Dollar “I wish there were ten more books like Stretching the School Dollar. It’s a very readable examination of what’s wrong with how we spend money on public education in the United States today, and how to fix it.”
Big History “…Big History represents a new kind of history, one that skillfully interweaves historical knowledge and cutting-edge science. In an age of global warming, when the fate of the earth hangs in the balance, scientific advances permit us to see the universe as never before, grasping the timescales that allow us to understand the history of mankind in the context of its ecological impact on the planet. Cynthia Brown’s lucid, accessible narrative is the first popularization of this innovative new field of study, as thrilling as it is ambitious.”
Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns “According to recent studies in neuroscience, the way we learn doesn’t always match up with the way we are taught. If we hope to stay competitive-academically, economically, and technologically-we need to rethink our understanding of intelligence, reevaluate our educational system, and reinvigorate our commitment to learning. In other words, we need “disruptive innovation.””
Energy Myths and Realities Smil “…examines the various predictions that have been made in the past and are still being made about energy use. Most of these predictions are overly optimistic about how quickly things can change and about the effectiveness of particular approaches. Although Smil remains hopeful in the long run, he clearly thinks we will do a better job if we are realistic about the challenges we face.
My favorite Smil book, Creating the Twentieth Century (and its companion, Transforming the Twentieth Century) chronicles the inventions of the last 150 years. It is quite positive because it focuses on innovation and how innovation has advanced society.”
Energy Transitions “…Vaclav Smil has written another important book on energy which is quite amazing. Although there are a lot of important books about energy, as an author Smil is in a class by himself in terms of breadth and depth.”
Sustainable Energy “…The noted climate researcher Ken Caldeira suggested I read Sustainable Energy – without the hot air by David MacKay. I’m grateful for his recommendation.”
Energies: An Illustrated Guide to the Biosphere and Civilization “…In this highly original book, ecologist Vaclav Smil presents a comprehensive and integrated survey of all the forms of energy that shape our world, from the sun to the human body, from bread to microchips. ”
Energy at the Crossroads: Global Perspectives and Uncertainties “…In “Energy at the Crossroads”, Vaclav Smil considers the twenty-first century’s crucial question: how to reconcile the modern world’s unceasing demand for energy with the absolute necessity to preserve the integrity of the biosphere.”
Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America “…In his brilliant, essential new book, Friedman takes a fresh and provocative look at two of the biggest challenges we face today: America’s surprising loss of focus and national purpose since 9/11; and the global environmental crisis, which is affecting everything from food to fuel to forests. In this groundbreaking account of where we stand now, he shows us how the solutions to these two big problems are linked–how we can restore the world and revive America at the same time.”
The Earth’s Biosphere: Evolution, Dynamics and Change “…Vaclav Smil tells the story of the Earth’s biosphere from its origins to its near- and long-term future. He explains the workings of its parts and what is known about their interactions. With essay-like flair, he examines the biosphere’s physics, chemistry, biology, geology, oceanography, energy, climatology, and ecology, as well as the changes caused by human activity. He provides both the basics of the story and surprising asides illustrating critical but often neglected aspects of biospheric complexity.”
Getting Better: Why Global Development is Succeeding “…After years of doom and gloom on the subject of foreign aid, it is refreshing to find so thoughtful and contrarian an approach to the topic. Charles Kenny shines a light on the real successes of aid, and he shows us the benefits that additional smart investment can bring.”
The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves “…Although I strongly disagree with what Mr. Ridley says in these pages about some of the critical issues facing the world today, his wider narrative is based on two ideas that are very important and powerful. The first is that the key to rising prosperity over the course of human history has been the exchange of goods. … The second key idea in the book is, of course, “rational optimism.””
Why America is Not a New Rome “…After reading so many articles and speeches predicting what will happen to America because of some supposed similarities to the Roman Empire, Smil felt it was important to explain that there is no predictive power in these comparisons. Smil is a great student of history, including Roman history and the dynamics of its Empire over time. Even though I took five years of Latin and enjoyed being able to understand some of the quotes in the book, my understanding of the Roman Empire was greatly expanded by reading this book. ”
Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food “…This is an important book for anyone who wants to learn about the science of seeds and the challenges faced by farmers. It’s only 167 pages, and includes personal stories that give you a sense of the authors as people and how strongly they feel about farming, food and the environment. I think anyone who reads this book will be convinced of the authors’ sincerity and intelligence – even if, like me, you never try any of the cool-sounding recipes. ”
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed “…As in Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond weaves an all-encompassing global thesis through a series of fascinating historical-cultural narratives. Moving from the Polynesian cultures on Easter Island to the flourishing American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya and finally to the doomed Viking colony on Greenland, Diamond traces the fundamental pattern of catastrophe. Environmental damage, climate change, rapid population growth, and unwise political choices were all factors in the demise of these societies, but other societies found solutions and persisted. Similar problems face us today and have already brought disaster to Rwanda and Haiti, even as China and Australia are trying to cope in innovative ways. Despite our own society’s apparently inexhaustible wealth and unrivaled political power, ominous warning signs have begun to emerge even in ecologically robust areas like Montana.
Brilliant, illuminating, and immensely absorbing, Collapse is destined to take its place as one of the essential books of our time, raising the urgent question: How can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide?”
Enriching the Earth: Fritz Habery, Carol Bosch and the Transformation of World Food Production “… Smil begins with a discussion of nitrogen’s unique status in the biosphere, its role in crop production, and traditional means of supplying the nutrient. He then looks at various attempts to expand natural nitrogen flows through mineral and synthetic fertilizers. The core of the book is a detailed narrative of the discovery of ammonia synthesis by Fritz Haber—a discovery scientists had sought for over one hundred years—and its commercialization by Carl Bosch and the chemical company BASF. Smil also examines the emergence of the large-scale nitrogen fertilizer industry and analyzes the extent of global dependence on the Haber-Bosch process and its biospheric consequences. Finally, it looks at the role of nitrogen in civilization and, in a sad coda, describes the lives of Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch after the discovery of ammonia synthesis.
Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next Fifty Years “…Fundamental change occurs most often in one of two ways: as a “fatal discontinuity,” a sudden catastrophic event that is potentially world changing, or as a persistent, gradual trend. Global catastrophes include volcanic eruptions, viral pandemics, wars, and large-scale terrorist attacks; trends are demographic, environmental, economic, and political shifts that unfold over time. In this provocative book, scientist Vaclav Smil takes a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary look at the catastrophes and trends the next fifty years may bring. This is not a book of forecasts or scenarios but one that reminds us to pay attention to, and plan for, the consequences of apparently unpredictable events and the ultimate direction of long-term trends.”
The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time “…. In the end, he leaves readers with an understanding, not of how daunting the world’s problems are, but how solvable they are-and why making the effort is a matter both of moral obligation and strategic self-interest.”
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies “…is a brilliant work answering the question of why the peoples of certain continents succeeded in invading other continents and conquering or displacing their peoples.”
The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger “…How could a child of the Iowa prairie, who attended a one-teacher, one-room school; who flunked the university entrance exam; and whose highest ambition was to be a high school science teacher and athletic coach, ultimately achieve the distinction as one of the one hundred most influential persons of the twentieth century? And receive the Nobel Peace Prize for averting hunger and famine? And eventually be hailed as the man who saved hundreds of millions of lives from starvation—more than any other person in history? What is it that made Norman Borlaug different? What drove him? What can we—especially our youth—learn from his life?”
Polio: An American Story—Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for history in 2006 “… It is a fascinating account of the search for a vaccine to stop the polio epidemics that swept the U.S. in the first half of the 20th century, and the remarkable efforts that led to its successful eradication from the U.S. and most other countries. Reading Oshinsky’s book a few years ago broadened my appreciation of the challenges associated with global health issues and influenced the decision that Melinda and I made to make polio eradication the top priority of the foundation, as well as my own personal priority.”
Jim Grant – UNICEF Visionary “…By creating a global constituency for children, getting people to focus on specific goals, and creating effective program delivery and measurement systems, Jim Grant literally saved millions of children’s lives.”
Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries “…In the late 1980s the World Bank initiated a process designed both to generate analytic background on priorities for control of specific diseases and to use this information as input for comparative cost-effectiveness estimates for interventions addressing the full range of conditions important in developing countries. The purpose of the comparative cost-effectiveness work was to provide one input into decision-making within the health sectors of highly resource-constrained low- and middle-income countries. This process resulted in the 1993 publication of Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries”
Global Burden of Disease and Risk Factors “…examines the comparative importance of diseases, injuries, and risk factors; it incorporates a range of new data sources to develop consistent estimates of incidence, prevalence, severity and duration, and mortality for 136 major diseases and injuries.”
House on Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox “…A story of courage and risk-taking, House on Fire tells how smallpox, a disease that killed, blinded, and scarred millions over centuries of human history, was completely eradicated in a spectacular triumph of medicine and public health. Part autobiography, part mystery, the story is told by a man who was one of the architects of a radical vaccination scheme that became a key strategy in ending the horrible disease when it was finally contained in India.”
Mountains Beyond Mountains “…This compelling and inspiring book shows how one person can work wonders. In Mountains Beyond Mountains, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Tracy Kidder tells the true story of a gifted man who loves the world and has set out to do all he can to cure it.”
Smallpox the Death of a Disease: The Inside Story of Eradicating a Worldwide Killer “…This spellbinding book is Dr. Henderson’s personal story of how he led the World Health Organization’s campaign to eradicate smallpox—the only disease in history to have been deliberately eliminated. Some have called this feat “the greatest scientific and humanitarian achievement of the past century.””
Tropical Infectious Diseases: Principles, Pathogens and Practice “…Presents cutting-edge discussions of the full range of tropical infectious diseases.”
Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver “…Vaccine juxtaposes the stories of brilliant scientists with the industry’s struggle to produce safe, effective, and profitable vaccines. It focuses on the role of military and medical authority in the introduction of vaccines and looks at why some parents have resisted this authority. Political and social intrigue have often accompanied vaccination—from the divisive introduction of smallpox inoculation in colonial Boston to the 9,000 lawsuits recently filed by parents convinced that vaccines caused their children’s autism. With narrative grace and investigative journalism, Arthur Allen reveals a history illuminated by hope and shrouded by controversy, and he sheds new light on changing notions of health, risk, and the common good.”
In Fed We Trust “…The author does a very good job of explaining how things looked to Bernanke as the situation progressed, and how novel the steps that the Fed took really were. The author does a good job of not using hindsight to evaluate all of the moves, while being clear about where things could have been done better.”
Life is What You Make It “…Peter writes about the values he absorbed growing up as the son of Warren Buffett and his -late mother, Susan Buffett, and the path he has pursued to identify and pursue his passions in life. ”
SuperFreakonomics: “…I recommend this book to anyone who reads nonfiction. It is very well written and full of great insights.”
A Separate Peace: “…Gene was a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas was a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happened between them at school one summer during the early years of World War II is the subject of A Separate Peace. A great bestseller for over thirty years–one of the most starkly moving parables ever written of the dark forces that brood over the tortured world of adolescence.”
Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School: “…In Brain Rules, Dr. John Medina, a molecular biologist, shares his lifelong interest in how the brain sciences might influence the way we teach our children and the way we work. In each chapter, he describes a brain rule – what scientists know for sure about how our brains work – and then offers transformative ideas for our daily lives.Medina’s fascinating stories and sense of humour breathe life into brain science. You’ll learn why Michael Jordan was no good at baseball. You’ll peer over a surgeon’s shoulder as he proves that we have a Jennifer Aniston neuron. You’ll meet a boy who has an amazing memory for music but can’t tie his own shoes.”
Broken Genius: The Rise and Fall of William Shockley, Creator of the Electronic Age “…Broken Genius is the first biography of William Shockley, founding father of Silicon Valley – one of the most significant and reviled scientists of the 20th century. Shockley won a Nobel Prize for inventing the transistor, upon which almost everything that makes the modern world is based. Little has affected history as much as this device, developed along with John Bardeen and Walter Brattain at AT&T’s Bell Telephone Laboratories in the mid-1940s.”
Creating the Twentieth Century: Technical Innovations of 1867-1914 and Their Lasting Impact “…This book is a systematic interdisciplinary account of the history of this outpouring of European and American intellect and of its truly epochal consequences. It takes a close look at four fundamental classes of these epoch-making innovations: formation, diffusion, and standardization of electric systems; invention and rapid adoption of internal combustion engines; the unprecedented pace of new chemical syntheses and material substitutions; and the birth of a new information age. These chapters are followed by an evaluation of the lasting impact these advances had on the 20th century, that is, the creation of high-energy societies engaged in mass production aimed at improving standards of living.”
Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance “…Drawing on the parallels from many countries and centuries, Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm, a professor of economic history and a New York Times Magazine writer, show that financial cataclysms are as old and as ubiquitous as capitalism itself. The last two decades alone have witnessed comparable crises in countries as diverse as Mexico, Thailand, Brazil, Pakistan, and Argentina. All of these crises-not to mention the more sweeping cataclysms such as the Great Depression-have much in common with the current downturn. Bringing lessons of earlier episodes to bear on our present predicament, Roubini and Mihm show how we can recognize and grapple with the inherent instability of the global financial system, understand its pressure points, learn from previous episodes of “irrational exuberance,” pinpoint the course of global contagion, and plan for our immediate future. ”
Einstein: His Life and Universe “…Based on the newly released personal letters of Albert Einstein, Walter Isaacson explores how an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk — a struggling father in a difficult marriage who couldn’t get a teaching job or a doctorate — became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom and the universe. His success came from questioning conventional wisdom and marveling at mysteries that struck others as mundane. This led him to embrace a morality and politics based on respect for free minds, free spirits, and free individuals.”
Give Smart: Philanthropy that Gets Results “…In the first half of the twenty-first century, giving to family and community foundations alone will be ten times in today’s dollars what it was throughout the entire twentieth century. Yet despite tremendous innovation in the social sector, philanthropy’s natural state is under-performance. Not since Andrew Carnegie wrote The Gospel of Wealth has a book been written that provides practical guidance for donors to get the most impact from their giving.”
Open: An Autobiography “…With its breakneck tempo and raw candor, Open will be read and cherished for years. A treat for ardent fans, it will also captivate readers who know nothing about tennis. Like Agassi’s game, it sets a new standard for grace, style, speed, and power.”
Physics for Dummies “…Steven Holzner, Ph.D. earned his B.S. at MIT and his Ph.D. at Cornell, where he taught Physics 101 and 102 for over 10 years. He livens things up with cool physics facts, real-world examples, and simple experiments that will heighten your enthusiasm for physics and science. The book ends with some out-of-this world physics that will set your mind in motion.”
Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines “…Learn the science behind the headlines—the tools of terrorists, the dangers of nuclear power, and the reality of global warming. We live in complicated, dangerous times. They are also hyper-technical times. As citizens who will elect future presidents of the most powerful and influential country in the world, we need to know—truly understand, not just rely on television’s talking heads—if Iran’s nascent nuclear capability is a genuine threat to the West, if biochemical weapons are likely to be developed by terrorists, if there are viable alternatives to fossil fuels that should be nurtured and supported by the government, if nuclear power should be encouraged, and if global warming is actually happening. This book is written in everyday, nontechnical language on the science behind the concerns that our nation faces in the immediate future.”
Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger “…For the first time ever, the wit and wisdom of Charlie Munger is available in a single volume: all his talks, lectures and public commentary. And, it has been written and compiled with both Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett’s encouragement and cooperation. So pull up your favorite reading chair and enjoy the unique humor, wit and insight that Charlie Munger brings to the world of business, investing and life itself.”
Showing Up for Life “…A heartfelt, deeply personal book, Showing Up for Life shines a bright light on the values and principles that Bill Gates Sr. has learned over a lifetime of “showing up”—lessons that he learned growing up during the Great Depression, and that he instilled in his children and continues to practice on the world stage as the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.”
The Catcher in the Rye “…The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days.”
The Feynman Lectures On Physics “…The whole thing was basically an experiment,” Richard Feynman said late in his career, looking back on the origins of his lectures. The experiment turned out to be hugely successful, spawning a book that has remained a definitive introduction to physics for decades. Ranging from the most basic principles of Newtonian physics through such formidable theories as general relativity and quantum mechanics, Feynman’s lectures stand as a monument of clear exposition and deep insight. Timeless and collectible, the lectures are essential reading, not just for students of physics but for anyone seeking an introduction to the field from the inimitable Feynman.”
The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century “…When scholars write the history of the world twenty years from now, and they come to the chapter “Y2K to March 2004,” what will they say was the most crucial development? The attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11 and the Iraq war? Or the convergence of technology and events that allowed India, China, and so many other countries to become part of the global supply chain for services and manufacturing, creating an explosion of wealth in the middle classes of the world’s two biggest nations, giving them a huge new stake in the success of globalization? And with this “flattening” of the globe, which requires us to run faster in order to stay in place, has the world gotten too small and too fast for human beings and their political systems to adjust in a stable manner?”
Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System — and Themselves “…Through unprecedented access to the players involved, Too Big to Fail re-creates all the drama and turmoil, revealing neverdisclosed details and elucidating how decisions made on Wall Street over the past decade sowed the seeds of the debacle. This true story is not just a look at banks that were “too big to fail,” it is a real-life thriller with a cast of bold-faced names who themselves thought they were too big to fail.”