The premise of Jared Diamond's nonfiction book "Upheaval" is that personal crises such as losing a loved one can produce valuable lessons for nations as well. Using individual problem-solving tactics, Diamond develops 12 factors that can help countries navigate major challenges.
The book was recently panned in a New York Times review, which argued that Diamond's case studies were riddled with inaccuracies and tailored to meet his specific framework.
"If [younger writers] were ever this sloppy, their career would be over before it had even begun," the reviewer, Anand Giridharadas, wrote.
"I admit that at first I thought it might be a little strange to borrow from a model of a single person's emotional turmoil to explain the evolution of entire societies," he wrote. "But it isn't strange at all; it's revealing."
"Nine Pints" by Rose George
Gates seems to be interested in blood lately. Last year, he recommended "Bad Blood," the story of the blood-testing startup Theranos, which deceived investors, patients, and business partners into believing its technology actually worked. Gates has also invested money in blood tests that attempt to detect diseases like Alzheimer's and cancer.
This summer, he's recommending "Nine Pints," a book about a woman with premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a condition that prompts severe pain and mental anguish prior to one's period. The book demonstrates how regressive certain societies are when it comes to providing safe, sanitary conditions for menstruation, but it also takes note of innovative ways to diagnose people through blood tests.
While the book may lack the drama of the Theranos tale, Gates said its anecdotes will "capture your imagination" and "make your blood boil."
"The Future of Capitalism" by Paul Collier
"The Future of Capitalism" identifies three major divides in our modern society: cities versus small towns, college-educated citizens versus those without a higher degree, and wealthier countries versus fragile states. Based on these problems, Collier helps devise a solution for a fairer version of capitalism.
Gates said he agrees with Collier that citizens need to feel obliged to help one another, but he doesn't necessarily believe that companies will volunteer to improve their communities.
"When we want companies to act a certain way — for example to reduce pollution or pay a certain amount of taxes — I think it's more effective to have the government pass laws," Gates wrote.
"Presidents at War" by Michael Beschloss
Having just missed the cutoff to serve in the Vietnam War, Gates said, he has often questioned how he might have performed in combat.
"Would I have showed courage under fire?," he wrote. "Like many people who have not served, I have my doubts."
These questions prompted Gates to pick up Michael Beschloss' "Presidents at War," a nonfiction account of how US presidents have handled major conflicts from the turn of the 19th century to the 1970s.
Gates said the book taught him that the US often "goes to war based on wounded pride" and that each war is connected to the one before it. He noted that he also learned the ways in which his favorite commanders, such as Abraham Lincoln, were wracked with anguish during wartime.
"A Gentleman in Moscow" is the only fiction title on Gates' summer reading list, but it draws much of its inspiration from historical events. The book tells the story of a Russian count who is sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel following the Bolshevik Revolution.
The book came out in 2016, but Gates finally got around to reading it after his brother-in-law sent him a copy. Gates said he and his wife, Melinda, poured over the title at the same time. Gates, who was a few chapters ahead, said he teared up at one of the plot lines, tipping Melinda off that something bad was about to happen.
Gates has read everything Dostoyevsky has ever written, so the book is a fairly obvious choice for him. But Gates said he thinks all readers will enjoy Towles' "quirky details" and genre-bending storylines.