In the spirit of Oprah’s Book Club, entrepreneur/philanthropist/all-around genius Bill Gates just made his summer 2015 book picks, and the list is a mix of humor, science (lots of science), and cultural criticism. His idea of a beach read might not be a light-hearted, steamy romance set on the Italian Riviera, but that’s OK. Who says beach reads can’t be highbrow?
The Microsoft co-founder picked seven books last summer too, and his 2014 list included titles like Timothy F. Geithner’s Stress Test, about global finance, and Ezekiel J. Emanuel’s Reinventing Healthcare. Fun! If you’re idea of literary escape involves evolution, vaccination, the nature of the universe, and cartoons about computers, you’ll love Gates’ choices. He’s also got some humorous books and memoirs in the mix, so it’s definitely not all doom and gloom.
“Each of these books made me think or laugh or, in some cases, do both. I hope you find something to your liking here,” Gates said on his site. Say you’re contemplating the question, “How did the universe come to be?” Gates has you covered. Or maybe you’re interested in the impact of meat consumption in our world. Read on. Or maybe, just maybe, you just want to laugh and be entertained by some doodles and drawings. Take a look at Gates’ seven picks, and add them to your summer reading pile. We’ve added a few extra picks at the end, just to round it out a little.
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Probably the most unexpected pick on the list. Gates said Brosh’s book made him LOL, calling it “funny and smart as hell. I must have interrupted Melinda [his wife] a dozen times to read to her passages that made me laugh out loud.”
The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins
“Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford, has a gift for making science enjoyable,” Gates says. The book asks questions like “how did the universe form?” or “What causes earthquakes?” And then it gives you answers.
What If? by Randall Munroe
The subtitle for this one is Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, and it explores physics, biology, and more. This is not your high school science text. It might just make you laugh, plus it’ll give you tons of fodder for cocktail party conversations.
XKCD by Randall Munroe
This is a collection of posts from Munroe’s blog of the same name, which is made up us cartoons. He basically makes fun of things like scientists and computers (no wonder Gates loves it). Gates explains that in one section, the last panel is a bunch of reporters dead on the floor because they ate arsenic. “It’s that kind of humor, which not everybody loves, but I do.” Uh, OK, Bill.
On Immunity by Eula Biss
Bliss delves into the history of vaccinations and examines why some people are afraid of having their children vaccinated (ahem, Jenny McCarthy). She doesn't pounce all over the anti-vaxxers, but she does explain why they’re necessary. “This is a thoughtful and beautifully written book about a very important topic,” Gates says.
How To Live With Statistics by Darrell Huff
This one was written in 1954, and if you can get past that title, you might just love it. “A useful introduction to the use of statistics, and a helpful refresher for anyone who is already well versed in it,” explains Gates. Statistics. Summer. Why not?
Should We Eat Meat? by Vaclav Smil
This is a serious probe into the impact of our escalating meat consumption, and Gates admits that it’s the least “beach-friendly” book on his list. If you care about the planet, animals, and our future, take a peek.
And 5 more I’d add…
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Boo’s National Book Award winner is a perfect addition to Gates’ list: informative, intelligent, important, and also a fantastic read. Her reporting reads more like a novel, and the stories about life in the trash dumps and slums of Mumbai will break your heart, and then put it back together.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
Ronson takes a stroll through our culture’s habit of publicly shaming people (celebs, writers, actors, women, your neighbor Bob) online. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes chilling, and always revealing. Why do we do this to each other? Can trolling be stopped? Can’t we just be kind? Ronson doesn’t have all the answers, but he’s asking all the right questions.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Uh, because it’s the next work from To Kill a Mockingbird genius Harper Lee, and it’s finally coming out this summer. How can you not read it?
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
Here’s a beach read for you. Ani has the perfect life: a gorgeous fiancé, a fabulous job, and lots of great clothes. But an event from her past comes back to haunt her, and suddenly things aren’t quite so perfect anymore. A fun read with a twist.
Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Berman
Berman’s collection of stories about women on the edges of fame is a must read for anyone interested in outsiders, tough broads, and independent women who got lost in history’s web. There’s the sister of Edna St. Vincent Millay, the lover of the lover of Marlene Dietrich, tortured artists, dreamy daredevils, and film stars relegated to the margins. It might just inspire you to live a little louder.
So load them up on your Kindle, stack them up on your desk—these 12 summer reads should keep you busy until fall rolls around. Or until July, depending on how fast you read.