The housing crisis in America, Eddie Izzard and a Vietnamese memoir all feature in Bill Gates’ top five books of 2017.
Billionaire and now book critic Bill Gates has shared his favourite books of the year on his literary blog, GatesNotes. Reportedly reading over 50 books a year, Gates maintains that reading – notably print books – helps him to see things from new and different perspectives and as such, he’s now hoping to share the wisdom he has absorbed from his literary pursuits. In an interview with the New York Times last year, Gates said: ‘I have always loved reading and learning, so it is great if people see a book review and feel encouraged to read and share what they think online or with their friends.’ We have republished his full list here, so you can see the books that have particularly captivated the billionaire this year.
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
(Abrams Books, 2017)
One of two books by Vietnamese authors, Thi Bui’s graphic novel is based on her own experiences fleeing Vietnam following the fall of Saigon in the mid-70s. It explores the specific anxieties and difficulties of exile and displacement, as well as more universal struggles around parenthood, identity, and what it means to build a home.
Gates says: ‘This gorgeous graphic novel is a deeply personal memoir that explores what it means to be a parent and a refugee. The author’s family fled Vietnam in 1978. After giving birth to her own child, she decides to learn more about her parents’ experiences growing up in a country torn apart by foreign occupiers.’
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
(Crown Publishing Group, 2016)
Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work is a profoundly illuminating ethnographic study on the devastating effects that housing evictions had on the poorest communities in the country. Focusing on eight different families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Harvard sociologist provides a shocking commentary on the evils of capitalism, through a deeply touching and personal lens.
Gates says: ‘If you want a good understanding of how the issues that cause poverty are intertwined, you should read this book about the eviction crisis in Milwaukee. Desmond has written a brilliant portrait of Americans living in poverty. He gave me a better sense of what it is like to be poor in this country than anything else I have read.’
Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard
(Michael Joseph, 2017)
Eddie Izzard’s humorous and candid memoir is a kaleidoscopic journey into his past, centred around the death of his mother. Bouncing from Yemen to Northern Ireland, from France to America, Izzard’s self-assured and gritty character makes for a truly refreshing read.
Gates says: ‘Izzard’s personal story is fascinating; he survived a difficult childhood and worked relentlessly to overcome his lack of natural talent and become an international star. If you’re a huge fan of him like I am, you’ll love this book. His written voice is very similar to his stage voice, and I found myself laughing out loud several times while reading it.’
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
(Grove Atlantic, 2015)
The second book by a Vietnamese author on Gates’ list is a thrilling tale about a half-French half-Vietnamese double agent living in California after the fall of Saigon. Winning the Pulitzer for fiction in 2016, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s work has been heralded as one of the most gripping espionage novels of recent times, while delicately exploring the intricacies of human love and friendship.
Gates says: ‘Most of the books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen about the Vietnam War focused on the American perspective. Nguyen’s award-winning novel offers much-needed insight into what it was like to be Vietnamese and caught between both sides. Despite how dark it is, The Sympathizer is a gripping story about a double agent and the trouble he gets himself into.’
Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil
(MIT Press, 2017)
The Czech-Canadian writer’s most recent work explores the relationship between energy and the development of societies across the world. The book looks at both organic and inorganic sources of energy, providing a fascinating insight into how civilisations have sustained themselves for centuries.
Gates says: ‘Smil is one of my favourite authors, and this is his masterpiece. He lays out how our need for energy has shaped human history—from the era of donkey-powered mills to today’s quest for renewable energy. It’s not the easiest book to read, but at the end you’ll feel smarter and better informed about how energy innovation alters the course of civilisations.’