Bill Gates vs. Steve Jobs: the Books They Recommended

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Slashdot has featured ”
the 61 books Elon Musk has recommended on Twitter” as well as the
41 books Mark Zuckerberg recommended on Facebook. Both lists were compiled by a slick web site (with Amazon referrer codes) called “Most Recommended Books.” But they’ve also created pages showing books recommended
by over 400 other public figures
incuding Bill Gates and
the late Steve Jobs — which provide surprisingly revealing glimpses into the minds of two very different men.

Here’s some of the highlights…

Gates’ recommendations include Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War (which he calls “the book I had been waiting for. I can’t recommend it highly enough.”) But he also recommends Steven Pinker’s more optimistic popular science books The Better Angels of Our Nature and Enlightenment Now (which Gates called “my new favorite book of all time.”) Other books also reflect Gates’ interest in philanthropy, including The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, and the 2015 book On Immunity. (“I had no idea how informative [this book] would be, even for someone like me who has been supporting and learning about vaccine research for many years.”)

The co-founder of Microsoft also calls John Brooks’ Business Adventures “the best business book I’ve ever read,” while also enjoying SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt, the classic math book How to Lie with Statistics, and Morten Jerven’s Poor Numbers (which Gates says “makes a strong case that a lot of Gross Domestic Product measurements we thought were accurate are far from it.”) He also notes Andrew S. Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive (about which he says “[This] basic theme is in the culture of Microsoft”), while David Brooks’ The Road to Character “got me thinking about my own motivations and limitations in new ways.” Also recommended: Hit Refresh by Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella.

Other recommended books show a more personal side of Gates, including Showing Up for Life: Thoughts on the Gifts of a Lifetime by his father Bill Gates Senior, and The Moment of Life, a call for change by Melinda Gates. There’s also The Feynman Lectures on Physics by Richard P. Feynman and Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise, plus Neal Stephenson’s hard-science fiction novel Seveneves, Jim Gaffigan’s comic memoir Dad is Fat, and both What If? and xkcd: volume 0 by Randall Munroe.

Gates also recommended Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography, as well as the 2016 book Becoming Steve Jobs: the Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader, which Gates says “has me thinking of my old friend. A true visionary.”

The late Steve Jobs himself has just 30 book on his recommendations page, including Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. (Steve Wozniak remembered that Jobs “read some books that really were his guide in life. I think [this book] might have been one of them that he mentioned back then.”) Other novels include Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and its vaguely Buddhist follow-up The Dharma Bums. (“[Steve Jobs and I] definitely read [this book] prior to the India trip,” remembers Daniel Kottke.)

Other revealing books on Jobs’ list include The Way of Zen, The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment and Ram Dass’s book Be Here Now (which Jobs said “was profound. It transformed me and many of my friends”). Also included is Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. Saleforce CEO Marc Benioff is cited as saying that everyone at Steve Jobs’ memorial service got a copy of the book. “This was the last thing he wanted us all to think about.”

But other recommendations include Clayton M. Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma (which Walter Isaacson said had “deeply influenced” Jobs) and The Business Value of Computers. “It’s rather thick and it’s not good bedime reading,” Jobs had said turing his lifetime. “But you can plough through it and there’s some incredible stuff…”

And interestingly, one book appeared on both Steve Jobs’ list and Bill Gates’ list: Andrew S. Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive. “This book is about one super-important concept,” Jobs once said. “You must learn about Strategic Inflection Points, because sooner or later you are going to live through one.”

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