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Reading Habits of Bill Gates- Insights from ‘Inside Bill’s Brain’

A few weeks ago, I published the review of Bill Gates’ 2019 documentary Inside Bill’s Brain. While I was just going back over it today, I felt that I had missed out on a significant aspect – Bill’s unflinching passion towards reading.

The documentary gives you a peek into his reading habits. Most of the insights about his obsession with books come from his wife Melinda, his sisters – Libby and Kristianne and his professional acquaintances.

These bits appear at different places in the documentary, I have just collated them here in one place. I hope you glean something from the reading habits of Bill Gates:

  • Mike Slade, former director of marketing at Microsoft, reveals that Bill Gates doesn’t read one book about something, he reads at least five books to arrive at a decisive insight about something. His phenomenal reading speed, along with his ability to synthesize fast, makes him a cut above the rest.
  • A close friend, Bernie Noe, who once went on a vacation with Bill, adds that Bill can read at an extraordinary speed of 150 pages an hour with 90% retention rate. No wonder, Melinda Gates calls her husband a multi-microprocessor.
  • When Bill’s secretary is asked how often Bill reads, she replies that he always carries a bag of 10-15 books with him. Thanks to his remarkable reading (and processing) speed, he does not take long to consume every book in the stack. The bag gets refreshed every week.
  • Bill’s sisters open up about how ultra-competitive he was even in his childhood. Somebody who always loved to win. However, he had an introverted streak, too. He would often retire to his room and go days – just chewing pencils and reading books – without speaking to anyone.
  • Bill Gates takes ‘Think Weeks’ every year. As a part of the ritual, he secludes himself to his cabin on the Hood Canal for one week every year. What does he do there? He reads books and research papers, and thinks about the future. It’s a therapeutic process that he’s been practicing since the 90s. Bill says, “That’s CPU time. It’s time you get to think about things.”
  • Bill is a fan of Václav  Smil. In case you are wondering, Smil, who? Well, Smil is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba where he teaches environmental science courses. He is also an accomplished author known for his complex works about energy and civilization and Bill Gates, apparently, have read all his works. He waxes lyrical about Smil as he flaunts his collection of the author’s books.

Bill Gates is the renaissance man of our times. His wisdom must be inculcated and his habits emulated. Below I am mentioning some of the books that feature in the documentary, books that shed light on the reading habits and the reading arc of Bill Gates:

  • Measure What Matters by John Doerr
  • The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman
  • Blockchain Revolution by Don Tapscot and Alex Tapscott
  • Strength is Stillness by Bob Roth
  • The Invention That Changed The World by Robert Buderi
  • Fundamentals Of Deep Learning by Nikhil Buduma and Nicholas Locascio
  • The Book Of Why by Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie
  • Bad Blood by  John Carreyrou 
  • Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark
  • Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
  • To Be A Machine by Mark O’Connell
  • Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
  • The Perfect Weapon by David E Sanger
  • Elastic by Leonard Mlodinow
  • The Brain by David Eagleman

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