Hon Folks, what books has Bill Gates, the world’s richest person, savoured lately?
The other day I stumbled on a November 19, 2015 article in Times online entitled 17 books everyone should read, according to Bill Gates”
I read it with gusto. Who isn’t curious enough to know what the mind of this creative genius feeds on!
All there was about the 17 books were their synopses, cleverly “juried” with witty summaries reflecting the personal take of Mr. Gates himself on the content of each book.
It all turned out to be some marketing gimmick for enticing the multi-billionaire’s multitudinous admirers to buy own copies online. If folks can spend hundreds of thousands of kwacha to sit next to the President and First Lady at a fundraising dinner, who would resist the feel-good factor in spending on books that Mr. Gates has read and appreciated?
But buying books online? Kidding me? That’s the luxury for folks living a digital life—and not merely existing in analogue as do most of us, Malawians—in this 21st Century. I can only wait for the day my “bookstore” at the flea market puts overused paperback versions of these titles on display.
Meanwhile, I take solace in musing over Mr. Gates’ thesis on each of the recommended reads. Take this one entitled The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
It’s a biography of Roosevelt, the 26th president of the US and a Nobel laureate, best remembered for bringing about corporate reforms and ecological preservation, contrasted with his immediate successor William Howard Taft, best remembered as a “distinguished jurist, effective administrator but poor politician.”
Gates, according to Time, is fascinated by how the book uses the presidency to explore the question of whether an inspirational leader can singlehandedly bring about social change or this depends on the groundwork laid by other factors.
Gates’ discovery in the book is as fascinating as it is insightful. He observes: “Although he tried to push through a number of political reforms earlier in his career, Roosevelt wasn’t really successful until journalists at McClure’s and other publications had rallied public support for change.”
McClure’s was a popular (not government-owned) monthly magazine between 1893 and 1929 with a niche for “alternative news, forgotten stories, unique viewpoints and muckraking journalism”.
Reading this, I can’t help feeling sorry for APM and the conservative bunch in DPP-led government for pursuing a tested-and-failed strategy of regarding free press as an enemy to be fought and defeated while maintaining an anvil-grip control of discredited State-run media, using it to disseminate, propaganda-style, important messages of change while brooking no dissenting views.
If only the touted transformational leadership of this government, which continues flip-flopping on enacting Access to Information law, could learn, as did Gates and Roosevelt, how free press can be an effective partner in the dissemination, debate and adoption of the agenda for change if allowed to thrive in the democratic space without let or hindrance.
The other of Mr Gates’ must-read books I found extremely interesting is entitled How Asia Works by Joe Studwell, a business journalist with a passion for understanding development.
The Times article quotes Financial Times as saying How Asia Works is “the first book to offer an Asia-wide deconstruction of success and failure in economic development.”
What leaves a lingering after-taste in me is the three-step success model that Gates discerns from the book.
He observes that success for Asia starts from the creation of conditions that allow small farmers to prosper, wealth from agriculture invested in the export-oriented manufacturing sector and the two sectors (agriculture and manufacturing) nurtured by government-controlled financial institutions.
See the irony? Gates, the philanthropist and capitalist to boot, is able to see how government-controlled financial institutions are better poised than private-owned ones to nurture the economic growth of developing economies.
Our own Goodall Gondwe the other day passionately advanced an argument the economy was better off with government-owned Malawi Savings Bank privatised. In retrospect, the wiser thing could have been preserving the bank by tackling mediocrity in government and not the other way round. n