At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we are fueled by the determination to create a world where everyone can live a healthy and productive life. But how can we begin to connect with the lives of individuals whose shoes we haven't walked in? And how do we find the language to process our own trajectories, traumas, and triumphs? We believe the answer is through reading. Far more than a pastime, reading reinforces our humanity by helping us to see others and be seen.
On August 9, we celebrate National Book Lovers day to take part in the excitement around reading and literature. To recognize this day, we checked in with our fellow bibliophiles on our North America team to find out what some of their favorite books are and why. We hope you find a new book among the recommendations and take a moment to connect in both real and imagined worlds.
Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel García Márquez
Márquez's memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, tells the story of the first 30 years of his life. It showed me how Marquez worked his way to being one of the most prolific writers in history and one of the most revered Nobel Laureates of his time. As a fellow native of Columbia, I felt connected to his narrative and found his life story both vivid and fascinating. It was eye-opening to see how many of his real-life experiences influenced themes and topics in his works of fiction like his masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo
This non-fiction book changed the way I understood decisions made by individuals in low-income communities using rigorous empirical analysis.The authors tackle common misconceptions about the economics of poverty and provide a close study of the obstacles facing low-income communities.
Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Muhammad Yunus
Banker to the Poor was my introduction to how innovation is critical in solving some of the world's most pressing challenges, like poverty. This book tells the story of how Yunus invented microcredit and ultimately transformed the futures of millions of individuals in low-income communities.
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
This book is a collection of humorous and anecdotal lessons that shaped the author's life and beliefs. After a terminal diagnosis of cancer, Pausch, professor of computer science and co-founder of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University gave his last lecture titled, "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," which directly inspired this book. His lessons are a reminder to me that you only get one life, so you've got to make it fun.
Senior Program Coordinator
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Part of the reason why I fell in love with this book was that it was relatable and realistic. Alcott's prose is simple but comforting. It conveyed the importance of family and how their support can get you through life's difficulties, heartache, and sibling rivalries (of course), with love, joy, and forgiveness.
The characters in Little Women are varied and complex, but my favorite is Jo March. Jo is competent and successful but is still a complex teenager finding her way to womanhood. Her journey was relatable for me as a girl with a "rebellious heart." For a 19th century novel, I appreciated that Jo's story wasn't focused on falling in love, needing to find a man or marrying to determine who she was. She simply wants to write, share her stories, and devote her life to the care of others. The novel is full of key messages that underscore the importance of good deeds, love, respect, and being true to yourself.
As I re-read it through different stages of my life, I have picked up different facets of the story and continue to enjoy it each time. It is a delightful story with heart and the happy ending we all want from a good read. As Jo's mother, Marmee March says, "Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I can never wish you a greater happiness than this.
Senior Program Officer
Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown
Since I was a teen, Manchild in the Promised Land spoke to the core of my younger self. This autobiographical novel set in Harlem during the 1940s and 50s is a powerful telling of a hard life in the big city after a family's move from the south during the Great Migration. While it is gritty and uncomfortable, it is also full of hope. The challenges awaiting me in the world, and the problems that I wanted to spend my life solving were masterfully shared by Brown. I was awakened and inspired by his storytelling.
Senior Program Officer
The Bifurcation of Dungsten Crease by Richard Hacker
In 2008, before my husband, Richard, and I had an inkling we would move from Austin to Seattle where he would shift careers to become a novelist, Richard began drafting his first novel and would read the chapters to me in the evening as they were completed. Each time I asked him, "What happens next?" and he would have to explain he didn't yet know because he hadn't written it yet. Before this first novel was published a couple of years ago (several years after his other five were published), Richard changed the gender of one of the main characters, changed the title, took out one or two of my favorite scenes, replaced them with even better ones, and amped up the plot. I learned what an amazing imagination he had, but I also learned a new form of creative and intellectual freedom.Just because a story starts out a certain way doesn't mean anything is written in stone (if it is written at all). And changing something as simple as the gender of the character opens up a whole new way of thinking about the story and the characters.
Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
Rothstein's historical telling of America's history of segregation was eye opening and sometimes made my blood boil. I read it during my time working in local government, which is ironic given its focus on local zoning and housing laws. I've always had a deep appreciation for the power of government and public policy to be a force for good in most cases, even with our country's complex history. This book was an important reminder that although we've come far as a country, we still have a lot of work to do to unravel systemic and intentional barriers in order to reach true equality. The book did a great job of revealing how policies and systems can be established to intentionally reinforce racial and economic barriers and segregation, which persist and haunt us today (especially as it relates to housing issues). On a personal note, I encountered this book at a time when I was trying to figure out what to do with my grandmother's home in Florida that had fallen into disrepair after it was left to my siblings. The book motivated me to do what I could to save it and keep it in our family as an asset that would always be there for future generations.
Becoming and The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama
Anything Michelle Obama says or writes is inspirational to me. I read both of her books during transition periods in my career and life. Reading Becoming was meaningful to me because I could relate my exact life, personal, and career experiences through someone as fascinating and influential as Michelle Obama. Becoming reminded me that we all have struggles and challenges throughout life, and that it is perfectly ok to "swerve" every now and then in your life and your career—a hard feat when you have a type A personality). Obama's most recent memoir, The Light We Carry, could not have come at a more perfect time for our country after the past few tumultuous years of the pandemic. Part therapy and part motherly advice, I thoroughly enjoyed reading her reflections about the collective trauma we've all experienced over the last several years.
Senior Communications Officer
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
This young adult fantasy novel is a cool twist on the Jungle Book and tells the story of Nobody (Bod) Owens who was raised by ghosts in a graveyard. While that might sound like a creepy theme for a children's book, Gaiman managed to make it both soothing and beautiful. It's clear that Gaiman, who also wrote Coraline, has a tremendous respect for children and their emotions.
I was an adult when I read The Graveyard Book, but I wish a book like this existed when I was a teenager exploring ideas of love, family, and identity. And yet, I believe it's a book for all ages to enjoy. The proof is in one my favorite lines, "You're always you, and that don't change, and you're always changing, and there's nothing you can do about it." This novel reminded me that kids are both brave and bold—two characteristics that should be celebrated. As I engage with children, I remind myself of that often. Most importantly, it's a book that celebrates life. Yes, even in a graveyard!
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
This book of Zen Buddhism teachings was recommended to me 20 years ago when I first started meditating. It really opened my eyes to how our preconceived ideas and opinions can get in the way of seeing things clearly or being open to other perspectives. This lesson – to approach life with curiosity and openness– has served me well in my personal life and in my work. By never assuming I have all the answers or that I'm seeing the full picture, I've been able to deepen my understanding of the issues we work on at the foundation and create space for others to share their great ideas. As Suzuki said, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's, there are few."