As well as being a pretty successful businessman, Bill Gates has always come across as essentially a nice and thoughtful bloke.
Perhaps it’s just a carefully concocted public persona and behind closed doors he’s a complete narcissistic animal, but the whole Foundation thing, the whole ‘giving at least half of their wealth to charity’ thing (and encouraging others to do the same) and the general humanitarian vibe he’s got going on means that we basically like you, Bill. You’re one of the good guys. The paperclip was annoying but we’ll look past it. We’re generous like that.
And one of the other tell-tale signs of being a thoughtful guy is that he’s very much into his books. In fact, we recently compiled a fascinating list of books that he and fellow tech beast Mark Zuckerberg had publicly endorsed, ahead of their appearances at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January which is well worth a read (like the books they recommend); however, it’s already out of date, since Bill has revealed his new favourite book of all time.
Writing on his blog GatesNotes, he explains how Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature was “the best book I’d read in a decade”.
He said: “If I could recommend just one book for anyone to pick up, that was it. Pinker uses meticulous research to argue that we are living in the most peaceful time in human history. I’d never seen such a clear explanation of progress.”
So, with a new book on the horizon, the stakes were high - but the good news is that Pinker has knocked himself off Gates’ top spot with his new tome, Enlightenment Now.
In Gates’ words: “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.
“It opens with an argument in favor of returning to the ideals of the Enlightenment - an era when reason, science, and humanism were touted as the highest virtues… I’m all for more reason, science, and humanism, but what I found most interesting were the 15 chapters exploring each measure of progress… I love how he’s willing to dive deep into primary data sources and pull out unexpected signs of progress. I tend to point to things like dramatic reductions in poverty and childhood deaths, because I think they’re such a good measure of how we’re doing as a society. Pinker covers those areas, but he also looks at more obscure topics.”
Gates then reveals his five favourite facts from the book, demonstrating how the world is getting better all the time:
- “You’re 37 times less likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning than you were at the turn of the century—and that’s not because there are fewer thunderstorms today. It’s because we have better weather prediction capabilities, improved safety education, and more people living in cities.”
- “Time spent doing laundry fell from 11.5 hours a week in 1920 to an hour and a half in 2014. This might sound trivial in the grand scheme of progress. But the rise of the washing machine has improved quality of life by freeing up time for people - mostly women - to enjoy other pursuits. That time represents nearly half a day every week that could be used for everything from binge-watching Ozark or reading a book to starting a new business.”
- “You’re way less likely to die on the job. Every year, 5,000 people die from occupational accidents in the US. But in 1929 - when our population was less than two-fifths the size it is today - 20,000 people died on the job. People back then viewed deadly workplace accidents as part of the cost of doing business. Today, we know better, and we’ve engineered ways to build things without putting nearly as many lives at risk.”
- “The global average IQ score is rising by about three IQ points every decade. Kids’ brains are developing more fully thanks to improved nutrition and a cleaner environment. Pinker also credits more analytical thinking in and out of the classroom. Think about how many symbols you interpret every time you check your phone’s home screen or look at a subway map. Our world today encourages abstract thought from a young age, and it’s making us smarter.”
- “War is illegal. This idea seems obvious. But before the creation of the United Nations in 1945, no institution had the power to stop countries from going to war with each other. Although there have been some exceptions, the threat of international sanctions and intervention has proven to be an effective deterrent to wars between nations.”
He then explains how Pinker tackles the ‘disconnect’ between the fact that things are getting better, yet many people don’t perceive this to be the case; Pinker explains why we’re drawn to pessimism and how this affects our approach to the world.
The book is released on 13 February - you can preorder it here, and watch Pinker and Gates have a nice old natter below.