Bill Gates may be known for his extreme focus, but when it comes to books at least, the man’s attention spins like a weather vane.
One month he’s giving 50 of his friends a new novel adores, the next he’s suggesting everyone get out the tissues and check out a heartbreaker of a memoir, then a bit later he’s back on his blog enthusing about a deep dive into eviction in America. The man clearly has both eclectic tastes and enthusiasm to spare.
So what’s the Microsoft founder’s latest book mania? This time he’s really outdone himself in his excitement declaring his latest find, his “new favorite book of all time.”
The scientific case for radical optimism
The soon-to-be-released title is the latest from renowned Harvard linguist Steven Pinker, and it’s not hard to see why the book appeals so much to Gates. Lately, the billionaire-turned-philanthropist has been using his popular blog and even the pages of major magazines to argue for more optimism. The world, he insists, might seem like a total mess sometimes, but we’re actually making steady progress making it a better place for all of us.
Pinker’s new book, due out the end of February, presents the same idea, only supercharged with data and delivered in the popular writer’s easy-to-digest style.
“For years, I’ve been saying Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature was the best book I’d read in a decade,” writes Gates, who is clearly a long-time Pinker fan, but he continues, “his new book, Enlightenment Now, is even better.”
“Enlightenment Now takes the approach he uses in Better Angels to track violence throughout history and applies it to 15 different measures of progress (like quality of life, knowledge, and safety). The result is a holistic picture of how and why the world is getting better. It’s like Better Angels on steroids,” Gates explains.
Don’t be put off by this description. Just because the book is information packed doesn’t mean it’s dull or requires a PhD to get through, Gates assures would-be readers that most people “will find it a quick and accessible read. [Pinker] manages to share a ton of information in a way that’s compelling, memorable, and easy to digest,” he claims. To prove his point Gates lists a whole series of fascinating, optimism-boosting facts you’ll learn in the book, including:
You’re 37 times less likely to be killed by lightning than you were at the turn of the century
Time spent doing laundry fell from 11.5 hours a week in 1920 to an hour and a half in 2014.
Less laundry, more hope
While I for one am absolutely thrilled about a reduction in time spent doing laundry (as it continues to feel like a treadmill of tedium today, I can only imagine the hours our grandparents wasted on the task), you could be excused for asking, who really cares? Sure these are fun factoids, but why do we need a book-length argument for optimism?
Journalist Rebecca Solnit has a great reply to this understandable question. “Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes,” she has written.
“Your opponents would love you to believe that it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act, that you can’t win. Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away.”
If you’re convinced that you could do with a little more hope and Gates’s new favorite book of all time is a good way to get it, you can pre-order a copy here.