Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Bill Gates Book Club

What do Oprah Winfrey, Jon Stewart and Bill Gates have in common? Aside from drive, passion and a certain geeky charisma, all three have created themselves as literary stylemakers almost as a by-product of the other -- much more visible things -- they do.

Bill Gates reading.
Oprah started it, of course: offering her reading choices with Oprah’s Book Club beginning in the late 1990s, instantly creating author celebrities while making reading newly cool. (Thank you, Oprah!)

Jon Stewart’s cachet at the head of his particular niche of the literati was slower blooming, but bloom it did and these days a talk spot on The Daily Show (which isn’t) pretty much guarantees a leap to the bestseller list and competition for Jon’s attention is understandably high.

The newest reading choices being offered up from the geek elite are coming from Bill Gates, the guy who (ahem) gifted us with the Windows operating system. On his blog, Gates not only shares what he is and will be reading, he also selects a title for future review, then asks readers to read along while he makes his assessment. His most recent review, of Jared Dianomd’s The World Until Yesterday (Viking), was posted on Gates’ blog earlier this week:
The World Until Yesterday made me think about how we have had to overcome some deeply ingrained behaviors in order to develop a modern, interconnected society. As Diamond explains, in a hunter-gatherer society, you trust people in your own group because you know for the most part they share your interests. But when you encounter strangers, you have to assume they’re dangerous. You have a strong incentive to do this: If you don’t, and you turn out to be wrong, they could end up killing you or stealing your food. 
Things are different in a modern society. You probably passed by a lot of strangers today without having to figure out whether they might try to kill you or take your lunch. That is a very primal fear we have overcome in order to live in large cities.
Consider how important this has been for global trade and international travel. How many strangers have to do business with each other every day to make the global economy work? Although globalization has been driven by inventions like the jet engine and the standardized shipping container, it wouldn’t be happening unless we were also able to overcome a natural suspicion of strangers. It is another reminder of humans’ amazing ability to adapt.
There are other, deeper observations. As well, Gates invites readers to add their own thoughts, while promising to review other selections from his summer reading list in future. Among them, Patriot and Assassin (Royal Wulff Publishing) by Robert Cook. “A friend of mine gave me this novel and insisted that I read it,” Gates writes. “It’s a thriller about terrorists plotting an attack on U.S. soil. I don’t generally read a lot of fiction. I think The Hunger Games was the last novel I read. I bet this one will involve less archery.”

One would hope!

You can see all eight of Gates’ selections here.

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