This is what's on Bill Gates' 2019 summer reading list: War, blood and the future of capitalism

Bill Gates' 2109 summer reading list is shaped by his attraction to books about upheaval.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

If you're not afraid of some heavy reading this summer in the northern hemisphere, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates' new top-five reading list should leave you satisfied if maybe a little exhausted. 

Gates says this year's selection deals with disruption in a non-tech sense and how societies and people respond to this. 

"I've recently found myself drawn to books about upheaval (that's even the title of the one of them) -- whether it's the Soviet Union right after the Bolshevik revolution, the United States during times of war, or a global reevaluation of our economic system," writes Gates on his Gatesnotes blog

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The first on the list is Upheaval, from Jared Diamond, the author of Guns, Germs, and Steel. Diamond uses a series of case studies to demonstrate how nations managed existential crises. 

Gates' favorite case study is about how Finland – the home of once Microsoft-owned Nokia – retained its Scandinavian national identity and status after being invaded by the Soviet Union in the 1939 "Winter War", just after the outbreak of World War II. 

Diamond explores the "notoriously difficult Finnish language" to demonstrate the strength of the Finnish national identity. 

"Though Finland was proud, it was also realistic. It understood that if the Soviets felt like taking over, they would. So, instead of ignoring the Soviet presence, which is what it had done before World War II, Finland decided to persuade the Soviets that they would gain nothing by occupying the country," writes Gates in his review

The cleverly titled Nine Pints by British journalist Rose George is all about blood. The full title is Nine Pints: A Journey Through the Money, Medicine, and Mysteries of BloodShe takes readers on a blood tour of the world and pulls out some fascinating facts. 

Blood costs about $67,000 a barrel and is the 13th-most-traded commodity in the world. Gates says that some of George's tales "will make your blood boil", but notes that many aspects of the book are uplifting. 

He was attracted to the subject due to his interest in Silicon Valley blood diagnostics firm Theranos and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes. 

Also: Bad Blood, book review: The rise and fall of Theranos 

There's also A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, which he read at the same time as Melinda Gates read her copy of the book. It's set in 1922 Moscow and explores the life of a Count who's been sentenced to house arrest for life in the capital's Metropol Hotel. 

Presidents of Warby Michael Beschloss is the fourth on the list. Gates was surprised to learn that the father of Doors' Jim Morrison was the commander of the US carrier that was fired on by the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964. Otherwise it's about how US presidents handled nine major wars between the turn of the 19th century and the 1970s. 

Finally, there's the The Future of Capitalism, by Oxford economist Paul Collier, who argues companies only focus on profits and shareholders, disregarding their responsibility to employees and the communities they operate in. 

Gates agrees that "companies need to take a long-run view of their interests and not just focus on short-term profits", but reckons Collier fails to acknowledge examples where companies do take a broader view of their interests. But Gates thinks it's up to governments to force companies to behave in a way that's beneficial to society. 

"And 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 than to expect them to voluntarily change their behavior," writes Gates.

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Gates still, however, thinks that capitalism is the best system for delivering innovation and economic growth. He agrees with Collier's assessment that "capitalism needs to be managed, not defeated." 

Correction: A previous version of this story included a reference to Rose George which has been removed.

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