Book Review: Factfulness, by Hans Rosling

Everyone should read this book.  I say this with complete conviction.  I repeat it without hesitation.  Everyone should read this book.

If you are an eighteen-year old boy starting college in a few months, you should read this book.  If you are a seventy-year old grandmother who loves going to baseball games, you should read this book.  If you are a White, middle-class parent, a second-generation American businessman, a self-employed surfing instructor, or a Michelin-star chef, you should read this book.

Why am I so convinced this is a book for every person, of every race, in (nearly) every generation, all over the world?  Hans Rosling, with his son Ola and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling, proves to us in Factfulness that we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do, and that this ignorance actually blinds us from the truth: that the world is a much better place than we think it is, and that human beings have made outstanding progress in the last thousand years.  Organized by chapter, Rosling describes the ten human tendencies and instincts that prevent us from seeing and acknowledging the facts about global progress, cooperation, poverty, education, disease, and more.

This in itself is reason enough to read it: as citizens of the world, it is our imperative to know fact from fiction to make informed decisions that will benefit ourselves, our neighbors, our children and our children’s children.  Collectively, we believe that fewer than half of all girls finish primary school, that the number of people living in extreme poverty around the world continues to increase, and that our world’s population continues to increase exponentially.  These “facts” are all wrong, and Rosling explains to us why our instincts to blame, to generalize, and to fear prevent us from accepting the truth.  No matter how much you know (or how much you think you know), this book will enlighten you, make you laugh, and surprise you with each new story and each new fact.

Not only is Factfulness a primer on finding truth in data on a large scale, but the instincts and dispositions we have towards thought and data apply on an individual level.  Take, for example, the “negativity instinct,” which Rosling describes as our tendency to notice the bad more than the good.  Applied to global development, the negativity instinct stops us from recognizing the great progress that has been made, and Rosling discusses statistics and facts that prove the world is a better place than most people think it is.  This is important.  But the instinct we have for negativity is not limited to our perception of global economics or politics.  The idea that we have difficulty accepting that things “can be both bad and better” at the same time has the potential to change the way we experience our own lives on a daily basis, if we have a mind to let it.  Through every chapter and each new instinct, I discovered connections between the large scale and my own, individual scale.  Factfulness is an outstanding book on many levels.

Do I have a soft spot for Hans Rosling, whose TED talks and Gapminder website have been a staple in my AP Human Geography class for three years now?  Yes, I do.  Did I read this entire book in his Swedish accent, hearing his laughter as he joked and his encouragement as he taught?  Yes, I did.  Does any of that change the fact (see what I did there?) that this is an incredible book?  No, of course it doesn’t.

Go read it.  Buy it or borrow it, I don’t care (though of course it is preferred you don’t steal it).  Educate yourself in factfulness.  Put the strategies to practice in your own life.  Go educate others.  And don’t ever stop asking questions, searching for answers, and updating your knowledge.

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Title: Factfulness: Ten Reasons You’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.
Authors: Hans Rosling, with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund.
Published: April 2018

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