Monday, April 8, 2013

Bill Gates Has a Book Blog (Just Like Everyone Else)

I don’t have a lot in common with Bill Gates. I’m not the second-wealthiest person in the world. (I’m barely the second-wealthiest person in my house.) I didn’t found Microsoft, and I don’t have an underwater music system. While I do have a large-ish personal library, it is not housed under an oculus, it doesn’t change temperature based on the personal preferences of whoever enters the room, and I don’t have an original Da Vinci codex for my cats to nap on.

Screenshot of Bill Gates' book blog at Gatesnotes.com.


But, if I ever happen to meet Bill Gates at a cocktail party, I’ve got something we can chat about: we’re both book bloggers.


It first came to my attention last month when Gates dropped by Reddit to answer questions for the popular AMA (Ask me Anything) forum. His thread garnered over 28,000 remarks and questions from Reddit users, with Gates weighing in on the expected topics like charity, money, and what he does with his free time. Gates stayed classy (a tricky task on anything-goes Reddit), while still betraying a not-often-seen sense of humor. (Asked if there was anything left on his bucket list, Gates quipped, “Don’t die.”)

It was when someone asked Bill Gates about his favorite book that I really perked up. “My favorite of the last decade is Pinker's Better Angels of our Nature,” Gates wrote. “It is a long but profound look at the reduction in violence and discrimination over time.” Then he added:  “I review a lot of the books I read at gatesnotes.com (Is that too self-promotional?)”

The book blog section of Gates’ website has a fantastic layout, with thumbnails of every book he’s read making it easy to scan. A lot of the titles are what you would expect -- or hope, really -- that a skrillionaire would care about: things like Tropical Infectious Diseases and How to Spend $50 Billion to Make the World a Better Place.

Clicking a thumbnail leads to Gates’ review of the book, although some only include publishing information and the fact that it was read. Others, like the Pinker book mentioned above, have fully-realized reviews.

It’s always interesting to see who the rich and famous find compelling, and Gates has several biographies under his belt, including those of Kofi Annan, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, former UNICEF executive director JIm Grant, and Nobel peace prize winner Norman Borlaug. Those familiar with Bill Gates’ favorite hobby won’t be surprised to see Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi on the list, too.

It seems as if Gates read the manual that says at least 99% of all the bajillion book bloggers must read The Hunger Games. It’s one of only a handful of novels on his “read” list, and he doesn’t elaborate on it. My guess is that he was heavily influenced by his sixteen year-old daughter. (“It’s the best book EVER, Dad. How can you say it isn’t if you haven’t even read it?”)

If you happen to meet Bill Gates at a cocktail party before I do, tell him that you read his book blog ... and tell him Book Dirt sent you.