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Why is Bill Gates giving this book to graduates of US universities?

Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates. Source: AFP/Dominic Lipinski

It’s called Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World—and Why Things Are Better than You Think; a book written by the late Swedish academic Hans Rosling, who dazzled the world with his TED talks on one of the driest topics on earth: Statistics.

Yet, this is the very topic billionaire Bill Gates wants every graduate from US universities to read this year. So much so that he plans to give electronic copies of them away free, Quartz reported.

He calls it “one of the most important books I’ve ever read―an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world.”

Fighting ignorance appears to be the core mission of the book. In its introduction, Rosling writes: “This is data as you have never known it: it is data as therapy.”

“It is understanding as a source of mental peace. Because the world is not as dramatic as it seems.”

So how does the book do this and how does this benefit graduates?

Firstly, the New York Times bestseller reveals the 10 instincts that distort our perspective. You know that feeling of us versus them?  Or how we feel like things are getting worse day by day? These are inherent biases us mere mortals are blessed (read: cursed) with.

What the book aims to do is to inform us about these biases so that we are aware of them. By doing so, it allows us to see that the world is “in a much better state than we might think” through the use of data and facts. Rosling, who wrote the book together with his son and daughter-in-law, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, uses these as well as lively anecdotes and moving stories to explain global trends.

As Rosling said shortly before his death last year: “This book is my last battle in my life-long mission to fight devastating ignorance…Previously I armed myself with huge data sets, eye-opening software, an energetic learning style and a Swedish bayonet for sword-swallowing. It wasn’t enough. But I hope this book will be.”

Gates looks set to continue Rosling’s mission to offer a more hopeful outlook of humanity to graduates. The free download of the book started earlier this week and will continue for a number of days. Graduates can go to Gates’ blog to register, select their accredited US college or university from the drop-down menu and a copy of the book in EPUB format will be yours.

Why book recommendations still matter to graduates in 2018

You might ask why a billionaire’s book recommendation should be of concern to you. Some people in your home country have probably not even heard about Gates or Microsoft and how they both changed the world.

These may be fair points, but before you write Gates’ counsel off completely, take a moment to think about what your graduation felt like. Or what it will probably feel like.

Graduating university means you’re now out in the real world. You’re an adult who will take on real jobs either in your host country or back home to kick-start the rest of your life.

How do you make full use of the last few years of your international experience in a foreign land? Sure, your degree has equipped you with most of the practical skills you need to earn a living. But what about personal progress? What about your mental wellbeing?

This is where Gates’ literary endorsement, which is just the latest in a long history of world luminaries offering their sage advice to students by way of book recommendations, come in.

They offer a snapshot into humanity that every adult – especially those starting a new chapter in life – can learn from. And who better to make recommendations for such books than  Nobel laureates, scientists, economists, and Pulitzer Prize winners?

‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ by children’s author Dr Seuss is possibly the most popular graduation gift in the US. Source: Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

For example, economist and 2007 Nobel laureate Eric Maskin prescribes Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments for its “far richer and nuanced view of human nature than its more famous successor”.

And of course, who can forget Dr Seuss’s ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ which is possibly the most popular book given to graduates in the US each year. By describing what it’s like living at the greatest heights to being left in Earth’s bottom-most pit, the classic nails exactly what life’s ups and downs are all about. At the core of it all, it teaches readers to look for the “success that lies within”.

Now, which graduate couldn’t do with such wisdom?

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