Bill Gates: billionaire book critic

Bill Gates: the billionaire businessman reads 50 books a year--on paper, not an e-reader [Photo New York Times]

Bill Gates: the billionaire businessman reads 50 books a year–on paper, not an e-reader [Photo New York Times]

New York Times, January 2, 2016

Evan Thomas, the best-selling biographer of Robert F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower and the author of a half-dozen other books, has seen those books reviewed over the years by The New Yorker, The Washington Post and The Atlantic. But with the recent publication of his latest work, “Being Nixon: A Man Divided,” he experienced for the first time a new phenomenon: the Bill Gates bump.

Just before Christmas, Mr. Thomas learned that his book had been favorably reviewed by Mr. Gates on his blog, Gates Notes.

“I’m surprised by the number of biographies I read that paint their subjects in black-and-white terms,” Mr. Gates wrote. “A classic example is former U.S. president Richard Nixon, who is too often portrayed as little more than a crook and a warmonger. So it was refreshing to see a more balanced account in ‘Being Nixon,’ by author and journalist Evan Thomas.” The review was illustrated by a photograph of the book on a desk adorned with objects from the Nixon era, like a rotary phone.

Mr. Thomas was taken by surprise. “I’ve never met Bill Gates,” he said. “I had no idea he had a books blog.”

“I was thrilled because he has a lot of reach,” Mr. Thomas said, adding that sales of the book jumped soon after that review was posted. “I can tell the blog is well read because I heard from all sorts of random people.”

For years, Mr. Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft who now focuses on the philanthropic work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, had been scribbling notes in the margins of books he was reading and then emailing recommendations to friends and colleagues.

Then he began to post these recommendations and critiques on the blog. “A few years ago I started thinking it would be fun to share some of these notes with the public,” Mr. Gates wrote in a recent email interview. “I have always loved reading and learning, so it is great if people see a book review and feel encouraged to read and share what they think online or with their friends.”

Mr. Gates says he reads about 50 books in a year, eschewing digital readers for old-fashioned books on paper. When he is busy with work, he reads about a book or two a week but will consume four or five in the same period while vacationing with family.

He has loved reading since boyhood. “I did things like reading the encyclopedia for fun,” he said, “and I was lucky in that my parents would buy me any book I wanted.”

The books section is one of a handful on Mr. Gates’s blog. He also writes on his philanthropic work and his foundation’s endeavors in health care, education and the like. The blog is filled with personal touches like a slide show of him with his friend Warren Buffett (including one of Mr. Buffett doing push-ups at Mr. Gates’s 50th birthday celebration) and an ode to his father to mark his father’s 90th birthday. But his book reviews tend to generate the most attention. …

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