“Factfulness” by Hans Rosling – Lessons and Book Review

Title: Factfulness

Author: Hans Rosling (with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund)

Category: Non-fiction, General Knowledge

Rating: 5/5

10-word summary: You may doubt it, but the world is getting better!

About Factfulness

Factfulness is a book that was written to prove to you that the world is getting better – much better than you think. But, like most people, you probably believe the world is getting worse, so Rosling uses statistics to prove his point.

Most of us tend to believe that the world is more dangerous, more violent and less developed than it really is. So the author helps us understand why we tend to believe that. He unpacks 10 different tendencies or biases that are responsible for our distorted worldview.

This book is meant to fill you with hope – but not with empty hope or unfounded optimism. It seeks to help you understand the world as it is at the moment. And when you see how much progress has been made – and is still being made – you cannot help but feel hopeful and excited about the future.

More than this, Factfulness also argues for accurate thinking – learning to look for the truth and forming opinions based on truth and data. This is just one of the reasons why I love this book so much. Even though I’ve read many good books, Factfulness quickly became one of my all-time favourites. It’s why I recommend it to anyone – and now, to you!

Lessons from Factfulness

We all seem to think that the world is getting worse

You don’t have to feel bad if you feel this way too. For some reason, it seems that we all feel this way – no matter how smart and educated we are.

Rosling said that if he were to compare the answers of all types of people with the answers chimps would give, the chimps would win – even if they can only give random answers. In other words, the people Rosling surveyed, gave responses that were worse than random.

There are a few reasons that can explain our distorted, overdramatic and negative perspective. One of the main reasons though is our ignorance. We lack the right information, so we rely on what we feel or what seems to be true. But our instincts are often wrong or mislead in cases like these, so it’s best to learn about the world as it really is. Once we look at the facts, we discover the truth.

There are still problems in the world – but it’s getting better

Despite what you may think, Rosling doesn’t think the world is getting better because he ignores the problems of the world. He’s not an optimist with rose-colored glasses on.

He’s a realist and he believes humanity is making progress because that is the truth. We are making progress in almost all the things that matter: peace, freedom, justice, reducing poverty, access to education, healthcare and more.

However, Rosling does realize there are still problems we have to face. There is a lot of progress to be made in the future. We don’t have to ignore the problems to be hopeful. We just need to remind ourselves that the world may be bad in some ways, but it is much better than it was and it is constantly getting better. We are making progress – even if we often don’t see it.

Have opinions that are based on facts

Factfulness is about looking for the facts (the data, the numbers, the truth) and forming your opinions based on that. It’s very important to understand the world as it really is.

If you read this book, you’ll see how uninformed or misinformed we are at times. You’ll also see how easy it is to adopt a distorted, overdramatic worldview. But even so, we should look for the truth. It’s the only way we can truly plan for the future. It’s the only way we can fight against ignorance and the stress that arises from it.

What I like about Factfulness

1. It helps you better understand the world

We all have our opinions about the world we live in. But in most cases, these opinions are often shaped by overdramatic negative news, personal opinions or misinformation. So we have a distorted view of the world.

But we can – and we should – learn to see the world as it really us. It helps to read books like Factfulness, to check out statistics and to look for the truth.

Having a more negative worldview than reality can often make us feel stressed, negative or even hopeless. Having a more positive worldview than reality can make us blind to the problems of the world, overconfident or reckless.

The best thing we can do is to develop a fact-based worldview. This book will help you get started. It will show you that fewer people live in poverty, the world is less violent, more people have access to healthcare and more.

2. It is science-based

Factfulness is a book that proves the world is better using actual data and statistics. It doesn’t rely on biased personal opinions or unreliable data. And this is why you can trust the data in this book. All the graphics and statistics include the resource, so you can double-check the data yourself.

I often recommend reading books that are science-based because these are the only books that help us understand the world as it really is. And we need to understand reality to function well. Wrong personal opinions, biases and dogma will never help anyone and too many books are often filled with these. Factfulness is the opposite – a source of truth and data that acts like a beacon in the darkness and shows us the world around us.

3. It encourages us to have a fact-based worldview

Most of us carry an image of the world in our heads. In most cases, that image is only partially right. Rosling recommends developing a perspective based on facts. When we discover that our opinion was wrong, we should update it to make sure it reflects reality as accurately as possible.

When we form opinions based on facts, we can think more accurately. The book Factfulness encourages us to use facts to develop a fact-based view of the world. But we can use the same principle to ensure we have a fact-based view of ourselves, other people and other phenomena. We just need to look for the facts and rely more on them than on our feelings.

4. It can help us fight ignorance – that of others and our own

We often don’t realize how ignorant we are about many things in the world. That’s probably because other people are often ignorant about them too. But our personal and collective ignorance can be very harmful. It makes us act in irrational ways or make bad decisions about the future.

That’s why we need to fight against ignorance. Only when we understand reality can we make good decisions and sound plans for the future of humanity. Wonderful, science-based books like Factfulness are a great cure for ignorance.

5. It brings hope while encouraging us to have a balanced, informed perspective

I am often skeptical of books (or people) that are very optimistic. Since the world obviously has many problems to solve, I think you can only be very optimistic if you ignore them. So I was worried about reading books like Factfulness because I feared they may be inaccurate or misleading.

But Factfulness doesn’t do this. It doesn’t prove that the world is getting better by ignoring problems. It proves that the world is getting better while acknowledging the problems. And, for a realist like me, this is great news.

Factulness argues that we need to be aware of the problems and continue to work on them. But, at the same time, we also need to be aware of the progress we have made and we are still making. Sadly, this progress often goes unnoticed, but if we look for it, we’ll always find it. Rosling tells us that the world can be bad, but getting better at the same time. And this is enough to bring me great hope about the future.

6. The short stories in the book are actually informative, witty and funny

I think every book includes stories in them. That’s because stories are easier to read than random facts, easier to remember and more enjoyable for the reader. However, I feel like most books include too many stories that almost never add anything to the book. I could often do without them.

Again, Factfulness was different. Each chapter included one or two stories but all of them seemed to add something new. The stories often proved a point in a clear, funny and interesting way. They illustrated an idea much better than a simple statement would. I thoroughly enjoyed reading these stories that often made me laugh out loud and think about them for days.

7. It includes several useful graphics

A book about statistics is more powerful when those statistics are illustrated as all kinds of graphs and maps. A visual representation is often much more clear and more powerful. They often helped me get a clearer picture of the statistics they illustrated. Plus, I think that graphs make this book more approachable and less intimidating for people who don’t know much about statistics. They explain concepts in such a simple way that they can be understood just by taking a glance at them.

What I don’t like about Factfulness

1. The classification of people by income seems clear and useful, but incomplete

I absolutely loved this book. But there is something I didn’t like – for a good reason. Rosling talks about the way dividing the world into “developed” and “developing countries” is wrong because most countries are either developer or somewhere in the middle. Because of this, he thinks we should have a better system of measuring wealth.

He proposes a classification of 4 Levels: Level 1, 2, 3, 4. This more nuanced classification shows there is a big difference between people and countries we would normally put in just one category.

His classification is definitely helpful to us. But I feel that it is incomplete, incorrect or misleading. That’s because the people on Level 4 (the wealthiest) are people who fit into the middle-class income.

If the highest level represents people who are in the middle class, what about rich people? And what about the millionaires and billionaires of the world? They are obviously much wealthier than a middle-class person, so putting them all in the same category seems incorrect.

In order to have a more correct system, I think the millionaires and billionaires on the world would have to be on Level 10 (if not Level 20 or 50) to show how rich they truly are in comparison with the people on the other Levels. The highest level could be calculated by someone who has access to information about the income and net worth of the wealthiest people.

If this classification were more accurate, I think it would help us see the disparity between the middle class and the richest 10% or the 1%. It would reflect the economic inequality in a much more obvious and accurate way.

Trivia about Factfulness

The book Factfulness was written by 3 authors: Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling (Hans’s son) and Anna Rosling Rönnlund (Hans’s daughter-in-law). However, the book reads as if it were written by one person, so they all did a wonderful job.

I know that Hans Rosling passed away before finishing writing the book. But he kept working on it until the end. Knowing this, I was curious to see if there was a change in tone or style towards the end of the book, but I never noticed this. Again, this only proves that the book was a team effort and they handled the task wonderfully.

Quotes from Factfulness

“Think about the world. War, violence, natural disasters, man-made disasters, corruption. Things are bad, and it feels like they are getting worse, right? The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer; and the number of poor just keeps increasing; and we will soon run out of resources unless we do something drastic. At least that’s the picture that most Westerners see in the media and carry around in their heads. I call it the overdramatic worldview. It’s stressful and misleading.”

“Step-by-step, year-by-year, the world is improving. Not on every single measure every single year, but as a rule. Though the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress. This is the fact-based worldview.”

“In order for this planet to have financial stability, peace, and protected natural resources, there’s one thing we can’t do without, and that’s international collaboration, based on a shared and fact-based understanding of the world. The current lack of knowledge about the world is therefore the most concerning problem of all.”

“It is easy to be aware of all the bad things happening in the world. It’s harder to know about the good things: billions of improvements that are never reported.”

“Everything is not fine. We should still be very concerned. As long as there are plane crashes, preventable child deaths, endangered species, climate change deniers, male chauvinists, crazy dictators, toxic waste, journalists in prison, and girls not getting an education because of their gender, as long as any such terrible things exist, we cannot relax.”

“I am certainly not advocating looking away from the terrible problems in the world. I am saying that things can be both bad and better.”

“Critical thinking is always difficult, but it’s almost impossible when we are scared. There’s no room for facts when our minds are occupied by fear.”

“Yet here’s the paradox: the image of a dangerous world has never been broadcast more effectively than it is now, while the world has never been less violent and more safe.”

“There will always be the richest and the poorest, there will always be the worst regimes and the best. But the fact that extremes exist doesn’t tell us much. The majority is usually to be found in the middle, and it tells a very different story.”

The general trend toward less violence is not just one more improvement. It is the most beautiful trend there is. The spread of peace over the last decades has enabled all the other improvements we have seen.”

Should You Read Factfulness?

Absolutely! This is a book that everyone should read – and I rarely say this about a book, believe me.

Since most of us have an inaccurate and overdramatic worldview, I’m sure anyone can benefit from reading this book. And don’t think you are too smart, too educated or too informed to learn from it because you might be surprised. Also, this book is a great introduction to science-based, accurate thinking – a way of thinking and understanding the world that is truly life-changing.

I was so happy with this book that I started recommending it to anyone. I honestly believe that if everybody read this book, we would all be less stressed and more hopeful about the future. And, more importantly, we would all understand the world better!

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