So here’s the full title of the book: Factfulness: Ten Reason We’re Wrong About the World-and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. Written by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, this book is a work of non-fiction and, quite frankly, not the type of book I typically select. However, my church launched a book club this year, and since I wanted to participate, I decided to give it a go.
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What kind of book is Factfulness?
Drawn in by my book club’s March selection, A Gentleman in Moscow—which, by the way, I LOVED—I was eager to keep going. Although Factfulness probably wouldn’t have made it onto my reading list otherwise, I jumped right in and here’s what I thought.
Quite simply, Factfulness is both timely and thought-provoking. While originally published in 2018, I first began reading it in the pre-pandemic days of 2020. But only one month later, when it was time for our book club to discuss it, we found ourselves plunged into the unknown.
Dealing with restrictive measures surrounding the coronavirus amid increasingly loud and divisive voices within politics and the media, this title couldn’t have struck a more timely chord. Hans Rosling (recently deceased) was a researcher, professor of international health, and speaker. He’s given numerous TED Talks, and if you’re interested, you can find a sampling of those here.
Both the premise of the book and Rosling’s exhaustive work have produced some interesting research that leads to interesting discussion. But before I share my review, let’s summarize what the book Factfulness is all about.
Factfulness: a summary
Below is an abbreviated synopsis of Factfulness:
When asked simple questions about global trends—what percentage of the world’s population live in poverty; why the world’s population is increasing; how many girls finish school—we systematically get the answers wrong. So wrong that a chimpanzee choosing answers at random will consistently outguess teachers, journalists, Nobel laureates, and investment bankers.
In Factfulness, [the authors] offer a radical new explanation of why this happens. They reveal the ten instincts that distort our perspective—from our tendency to divide the world into two camps…to the way we consume media…to how we perceive progress….It turns out that the world, for all its imperfections, is in a much better state than we might think. That doesn’t mean there aren’t real concerns. But when we worry about everything all the time instead of embracing a worldview based on facts, we can lose our ability to focus on the things that threaten us most.
Factfulness…will change the way you see the world and empower you to respond to the crises and opportunities of the future.
Is Factfulness a good book?
I liked this book, and I am glad I read it. The book begins with a test for the reader to take. It’s short and simple: 13 multiple choice questions related to poverty, education, life expectancy, population, and more. You can find the test HERE on the Gapminder Foundation website, and I encourage you to take it. I surprised myself with many of the results!
Although a data-driven book, the author combines research with a collection of witty anecdotes to make his point, and he boils it down to 10 instincts he says we use to interpret the world. I love that he marries the importance of evaluating a situation using both qualitative and quantitative analysis. I know people who get mired down in data points, believing that’s the sole measure of a situation. To that point, Hans Rosling states, “The world cannot be understood without numbers; And it cannot be understood with numbers alone.” This is a common refrain throughout Rosling’s book.
Here are a few comments from the book I found particularly compelling:
- “Though we absolutely need numbers to understand the world, we should be highly skeptical about conclusions derived purely from number crunching.”
- “…things can be both bad and better.“
- “When we are afraid and under time pressure and thinking of worst-case scenarios, we tend to make really stupid decisions. Our ability to think analytically can be overwhelmed by an urge to make quick decisions and take immediate action.”
- “Fear plus urgency make for stupid, drastic decisions with unpredictable side effects.”
- “Being always in favor of or always against any particular idea makes you blind to information that doesn’t fit your perspective…test your favorite ideas for weaknesses. Be humble about the extent of your expertise. Be curious….”
Given the subject matter, this easily could have been a dry and boring read. Thankfully, it wasn’t, and I was thrilled to be pleasantly surprised.
Here are two quick links if you’d like to order a copy for yourself: Amazon or Barnes & Noble
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