Few of us can achieve the levels of business success attained by Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg. But their reading lists offer a bit of insight into their thinking.
Here are five titles the world’s richest men have been recommending:
1. Bill Gates recommends: Evicted.
In this award-winning chronicle, academic Matthew Desmond explains that poor people in Milwaukee (and other cities) face a stacked deck: Steep rents and limited job opportunities mean they’re always on the edge of eviction. Once evicted, their plight worsens. Desmond details self-destructive decisions and social circumstances that doom his subjects to an endless loop of poverty. Evicted is a significant book that earned rave reviews and multiple awards. To his credit, the author gives equal time to black poverty and white poverty in Milwaukee. The maggots, cockroaches and fatal fires in black areas seem more severe, but poor whites hardly fare better. For instance, he describes an aging white woman who endures a brutally cold winter in an unheated trailer, owing to her inability to pay the gas bill. Since Desmond published his book, he has continued to study evictions, building a nationwide database of eviction trends.
2. Warren Buffett recommends: The Intelligent Investor.
Of course he does. Buffett began his career as a disciple of Benjamin Graham, author of The Intelligent Investor. This classic tome of common-sense advice belongs on every investor’s bookshelf. The principles that Graham outlines are the very precepts that have guided Buffett and other titans, including mutual fund innovator John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard Group. First published in 1949, Graham’s text shows a few signs of age, most notably in its discussion of interest rates and savings bonds. Overall, though, Graham’s counsel on fundamental investing is timeless.
3. Mark Zuckerberg recommends: Portfolios of the Poor.
The scope of global poverty is truly staggering. The World Bank estimated in 2005 that 2.5 billion people subsist on less than $2 per person, per day. In this book, which won kudos from Facebook’s founder, researchers Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford and Orlanda Ruthven report a surprising conclusion: The poor rarely spend all the money they get. After using financial diaries to track the day-to-day monetary activities of more than 250 households in Bangladesh, India and South Africa, the authors report that the poor are active money managers who handle relatively large cash flows and usually build savings into their “portfolios.” The authors believe international development efforts should provide poor households with better financial tools for managing their current incomes. The authors describe the challenges and strategies of impoverished households, and paint academically restrained – but still touching – portraits of individual families.
4. Gates and Buffett recommend: Business Adventures.
Get ready for a tour of the golden days of American corporations. John Brooks’s collection of classic New Yorker articles offers gripping behind-the-scenes sagas of seminal moments in 20th-century business. Originally published between 1959 and 1969, Brooks chronicles 12 business war stories. Among them: the meteoric rise of Xerox and the spectacular implosion of the Ford Edsel. Brooks’s elegant prose shines. He eschews jargon for understated wit, vivid characters and restrained drama. Even though this 1969 anthology shows its age in spots, it remains an intriguing overview of stories that shaped the modern US economy.
5. Elon Musk and Gates recommend: Superintelligence.
Oxford futurist Nick Bostrom argues that artificial intelligence (AI) offers the promise of a safer, richer and smarter world, but that humanity may not be capable of achieving AI’s promise. The more Bostrom deconstructs public assumptions about AI, the more worried the reader becomes. He suggests that humankind lacks the resources and imagination to shift from a world that people lead to one that some superintelligent AI agent could threaten or dominate. Bostrom explores the possibilities of – and the concerns related to – such a “singleton.” He ponders the possibility that such an agent could develop into a one-world government with uncertain moral principles.