Microsoft’s co-founder remembers that he has recently enjoyed reading books of the genre he used to read in his childhood – it’s about science fiction. As a teenager, Gates readily read books Issac Asimov (especially those from the series Foundation), Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert Heinlein (his favorite novel by this author was “Luna is a strict lady”). As he writes, he was most fascinated by the fact that these works move the boundaries of what is possible and imaginable. Therefore, his recommendations also include works of this genre. One of the books takes place 12 light years from the Sun, the other – in the USA, on the list created by Gates there are also non-fiction publications. Some of them are books describing what is happening in science today, there is also one novel. Interestingly, only two of the books recommended by the American have been published in Polish so far, so if you want to read in English – Bill Gates has some Christmas inspiration for you! Although the subject matter of any of the books he recommends is not Christmas, you can read them with equal pleasure at any time of the year.
What is worth reading on holidays (and not only)? 5 Bill Gates Proposals
1. “Hail Mary Project”, Andy Weir, average mark in lubimyczytac.pl: 8.0 / 10
But let’s start with the works that already have Polish translations. The first is “The Hail Mary Project” by Andy Weir – the author previously wrote, inter alia, “Martian”. Gates points out that he has a hard time telling anything about this book without revealing any of the hidden surprises in the story. You can write, however, that the main character of the novel is Ryland Grace, a science teacher who wakes up one day … on a spaceship in another star system. However, the man quickly realizes that he has been sent into space to save our solar system from a microorganism called an astrophage that works by eating (our) sun. If Ryland’s mission is not successful, there will be an Ice Age on Earth, with the deaths of billions of people. Attention! As Gates points out, the plot twist takes place after reading about a quarter of the book, but it can also be revealed that not only Grace wants to destroy an astrophage, but this is also the intention of an alien who looks like a spider the size of a Labrador. Made of rock. Gates also encourages you to read the book like this:
The novel wisely presents the situation in which its main character found himself. Ryland is a decent, honest man, so it’s impossible not to cheer him on. He suffers from amnesia at first, so as a reader you learn the facts along with him. And it’s all the more interesting that Grace also has a good sense of humor. The first thing that comes to his mind about confronting an astrophage is that – as a scientist, not a superhero – he would not know what to do and would probably get himself killed.
The book was also highly rated by the readers of lubimyczytac.pl – the average score is 8.0 / 10. As the Vetulus user wrote about his reading experience:
Two days taken from the curriculum vitae. When will I finally be able to go back to Hail Mary? This is almost the only thought that popped into my head in those days. Besides, I was in autopilot mode.
Technical, full of various theories, physical and mechanical curiosities, professional and even engineering in places, and at the same time sensitive and moving science fiction. I cannot describe this book otherwise. For me – simply beautiful. It consumed me completely and completely. I have not forgotten reading for a long time. Even Karika’s Rift didn’t engage me to such an extent.
2. “Klara and the sun”, Kazuo Ishiguro, average grade in lubimyczytac.pl: 7.2 / 10
Bill Gates is a fan of not only science but also robots. As he notes, literature and films present stories about robots usually in two ways: either these intelligent machines murder us all or they begin to coexist with us. While Gates loves “Terminator”, he chooses to read about positive relationships between humans and robots. And this is described by Kazuo Ishiguro in his novel “Clara and the Sun”.
The main character of the piece is the title Klara – a robot accompanying a sick 14-year-old girl named Josie. The action of the novel takes place in the future, about which we know only that the children were “genetically altered” so that they would be smarter. And it was precisely the kind of mind-lift Gates puts it that caused Josie’s health problems. The girl and other children learn remotely, which is why the robots accompanying them become friends of the youngest. What we know about the world outside Josie’s home is that there are frequent acts of terrorism there, and an ecological disaster is also mentioned.
Klara was programmed to be very empathetic and curious about the world. And exploring it from the robot’s perspective, as outlined by Ishiguro, is in many respects similar to how people perceive reality. However, there are differences, among others in what (literally!) Klara sees and what appears to human eyes – the robot perceives reality in the form of successive frames, reminiscent of film frames. The book recommended by Bill Gates received an average rating of 7.2 / 10 on lubimyczytac.pl, as Agnieszka Kruk wrote about it in her review:
Ishiguro’s variation on the role of machines in the future is both comforting and disturbing. It is optimistic that these are not ruthless machines trying to take over the world, but beings ready to help us, even at their own expense. However, it is disturbing to think that soon a person may be so lonely that he will need to buy a robot as a friend …
3. “A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence” by Jeff Hawkins, no grades – rate the book at lubimyczytac.pl
After Bill Gates’ father became ill with Alzheimer’s, his son became even more interested in how the human brain works, what causes neurodegenerative diseases, and how we can stop them. Unfortunately, as the American notes, we are only really beginning to learn the secrets of the human brain. However, as Gates goes on to explain, this is not surprising since we don’t yet know exactly how the worm’s brain, which has 30 neurons, works. In comparison, there are 86 billion of them in the human brain. And that’s about it – trying to understand how the cells and connections in our brains give rise to consciousness, our ability to learn – says Hawkins’ book, A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence. As Gates writes:
Hawkins, after retiring from the tech industry, chose to focus on one thing: making machine learning improvements. I myself firmly believe that in the coming decades we will be able to invent machines with enormous “general intelligence” that will allow us to face truly multi-faceted and complex activities.
In the publication, the author devotes a lot of attention to the cortex of the new brain (neocortex), he believes that its primary function is to get to know the world better and better as we move around it, to anticipate what our next experience will be by building on previous experiences. Perhaps a better understanding of how the neocortex works will also help improve artificial intelligence. Hawkins says of her: ‘There is no’ I ‘in AI’ – so far the computer can beat the human at chess, but it doesn’t know it’s a game.
All this sounds complicated, but Gates assures that he is not a specialist in the field of medicine himself, and that Hawkins’ book is written in understandable language, it is a popular science book, not an academic textbook.
4. “The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race”, Walter Isaacson, no reviews – rate the book in lubimyczytac.pl
Another book recommended by Bill Gates is “The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing and the Future of the Human Race” by Walter Isaacson. It is also a popular science proposal about the CRISPR system, used in biotechnology to modify the genome in precisely and deliberately selected places. The billionaire points out that the foundation he and his ex-wife founded supports many projects that use this technology, and in Isaacson’s book, Gates appreciates that he emphasizes both the positive and groundbreaking importance of CRISPR for humanity, as well as its dark sides. The breakthrough is certainly the possibility of treating blood diseases with CRISPR, such as sickle cell anemia or beta thalassemia. Unfortunately, in some cases, the use of this technology is morally questionable, such as when one Chinese researcher used CRISPR to edit the human embryo genomes of HIV-positive parents. The scientist wanted to help the couple have healthy children (two have already been born), but he broke the scientific rules that apply in China and the USA.
Gates also appreciates this book for the great readability of non-scientists and for the researcher who discovered the CRISPR system – biochemist Jennifer Doudna, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for her achievements. As the American writes on his blog:
It’s great to read about a scientific discovery centered on a woman. As a dad, I was especially touched by the passages about Father Doudna. Martin, himself a professor, supported his daughter’s love of science at every step and strengthened her confidence that she could devote herself to her at the highest level. However, the man died before his daughter achieved international fame.
Gates also points out that the book is not a biography and you can read in it not only about Jennifer Doudna herself, but also about the CRISPR system. The author of the book talked to a researcher who now mainly studies ethical issues related to the system she discovered. As she told Isaacson:
If you think we live in a world of inequality, imagine what it would look like if society became genetically linked along economic lines and we rewrote financial inequality into our genetic code.
5. “Hamnet”, Maggie O’Farrell, average mark in lubimyczytac.pl: 9.3 / 10
What do we know about Shakespeare? Although today he is considered the greatest playwright of all time, many facts about his work and private life remain a mystery. O’Farrell’s book focuses on the real: Shakespeare is known to have had a son, Hamnet, who died at the age of 11, possibly of the plague. Bill Gates points out that in the novel he was enchanted by the fact that he mostly talks about relationships in a loving family. About the fact that even at a time when parents realized that the chances for their child to reach adulthood were not so great, the loss of a son or daughter was at the cost of enormous suffering.
The American also notes that when you read, you don’t really know who the “husband” O’Farrell writes about is until the very end. In turn, Shakespeare’s wife, Agnes (also known as Anne) Hathaway, was often portrayed in various publications as a ruthless (because older than her husband!) Woman who enslaved a younger and defenseless man. In the novel, O’Farrell is, however, a mysterious, almost supernatural figure, a healer who can predict the future. Agnes knows that her first descendant will be a girl, and only two of the three children will survive her death. Shakespeare is truly fascinated by it. As Gates notes:
“Hamnet” is a novel about how the death of a child haunts the parents, and “Hamlet” is about how the death of a parent haunts the son. O’Farrell skillfully combines the two stories and offers a surprising and moving explanation of how Shakespeare redirected his regret to writing.
And you, have you read any of the above books? Or maybe you are going to take them on the recommendation of Bill Gates or read publications he wrote himself? We are waiting for your answers in the comments!
Source: GatesNotes, Bill Gates blog[as]