It can be easy to think the world is falling apart around us. We are constantly bombarded with news of people fighting, animals going extinct and the climate going to deadly extremes. With all of these stories, it can be hard to keep a clear head about the world. That’s why Hans Rosling, along with his son Ola Rosling and daughter-in-law Anna Roseling Ronnlund, wrote “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.”
Hans Rosling was a doctor, professor of international health and a public educator. He was a trusted counselor to governments, the United Nations and influential people such as Bill and Melinda Gates. Rosling died in 2017, soon after this book was published.
The front and back inside covers of the book display colorful maps and charts showing people by region and income, including life on the four income levels and a world health chart. While it may be intimidating to look at when you first open the book, having no idea what many of the symbols mean, Rosling helps the reader by walking them through all of these charts and maps throughout the entire book. There are also various other charts, maps and pictures throughout the entire book that help the reader conceptualize what Rosling is talking about.
Rosling gets the reader’s attention right in the introduction chapter. There is a photo of an X-ray of a man swallowing a sword and the section is titled “Why I Love the Circus.” This seemingly has nothing to do with what the book will be talking about until Rosling says that he used to swallow swords in front of his classes to show them that anything is possible. Making this the first passage someone reads in the book also helps instill the sense that anything is possible, and starts the book off on a positive note.
In that same introduction chapter, there is a quiz for the reader to take. Composed of 13 questions asking about girls education, vaccines, natural disasters and life expectancy. This is to test the reader’s knowledge, or biases, on these subjects. When I took the quiz I got a two out of 13. Rosling gives the answers at the end of the quiz but refers back to the results and the data behind them many times throughout the book.
Each chapter of “Factfulness” has to do with an “instinct” that we are all guilty of falling into. These instincts include the urgency instinct, generalization instinct, negativity instinct, fear instinct and the gap instinct. Hans tackles these issues by looking at common misconceptions and showing what is getting better in the world. In the second chapter, there are two pages of charts that show “16 bad things that are decreasing,” such as expensive solar panels, HIV infections and hunger. Rosling also included “16 good things increasing,” such as science, literacy, water and protected nature.
At the end of each chapter, Rosling condenses the chapter itself into bullet points and important things to remember. This helps the reader absorb and understand the information better, and offers a quick place to refer to when you feel like you’re falling into one of the instincts.
Even though this book is filled with data, numbers and charts, it never reads like a textbook but rather an uplifting story. “Factfulness” is perfect for anyone wanting a perspective change, anyone interested in health or economics or anyone who just needs to hear good news. It also makes for a quick read at just 259 pages (342 pages if you count the notes, index and sources listed) and includes lots of pictures.