Five Books That Shaped Melinda Gates

(Editor's note: This post was written by activist, philanthropist, and first-time author Melinda Gates. For more information, visit, opens a new window)

As avid readers like me—and, I’m guessing, you—know so well, the best stories do much more than entertain us. They teach us something new, build bridges of empathy, and challenge us to look at the world through different eyes.

My first book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, comes out this month. In some ways, it’s a story about stories. It’s a chance to tell my own story—about my journey to becoming an advocate and activist—but, more importantly, it’s a chance to tell the stories of women I’ve met around the world. By sharing their stories with me, they called me to action. By sharing their stories in my book, I hope to do the same for others.

I was lucky that as I wrote, I could draw inspiration from the many wonderful stories and storytellers that have helped shape my own understanding of the world. Here are five of the books I carry in my heart—all important stories, well told.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I find Michelle Obama’s memoir incredibly inspiring, not just because she’s a smart, talented woman, but because she also has the courage to be vulnerable. She’s candid and insightful about her family, her values, and her experience with what she calls “the universal challenge of squaring who you are with where you come from and where you want to go.”

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

There aren’t many novels I read whose poetry moves me as much as their politics. But the story of Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom, navigating a South Africa torn by racism and fear definitely makes that list. The heartbreaking and inspiring ways in which the characters care about one another has never left me. In the most difficult of circumstances, they answer the worst of human nature with the best of it.

However Long the Night by Aimee Molloy

This is the true, inspiring story of a woman named Molly Melching who leads an innovative organization called Tostan (the word means “breakthrough” in Wolof, a language spoken in West Africa). Molly began her career as a translator for development programs working in Senegal. But she quickly saw that there was more than a language barrier dividing the groups—there was an empathy barrier. She started Tostan to develop a new approach to social change, one that has informed how I think about the work of our foundation.

Factfulness by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, and Ola Rosling

We’re bombarded by headlines about the most terrible things happening around the world all day, every day. But what Factfulness points out, with page after page of evidence, is that despite the headlines, the world is actually getting better and better, all the time, for almost everybody in it.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

Brené Brown’s book was a revelation to me. We grow up believing that the right way to go through life is to erase our mistakes and hide our weaknesses. Brené offers a better, more authentic alternative. She believes that by embracing our vulnerability, we lift up not only ourselves but those around us.