Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Hans Rosling

Flatiron Books

Educating girls has proven to be one of the world’s best-ever ideas. When women are educated, all kinds of wonderful things happen in societies. The workforce becomes diversified and able to make better decisions and solve more problems. Educated mothers decide to have fewer children and more children survive. More energy and time is invested in each child’s education. It’s a virtuous cycle of change.

                               from Factfulness


Yes, things are bad. But oh so much better. 

Fun Fact: In 1800, the average life expectancy for a human on this planet was 31 years; in 2017, it was 72 years.

If you’re one of the many people who believe that the state of the world is getting worse with each news cycle, this book might be for you—Unless you’re one of the many people who actually take some glee in talking about how bad things are. Then skip this book.

This is the book that both Bill Gates and Barack Obama have been recommending. It’s not simply a marshaling of data showing how human life on earth has steadily improved; it argues for a “fact-based” way of seeing the world.

Hans Rosling, who died in 2017, was a medical doctor serving in some of the poorest countries in the world. He was also a professor of international health, co-founder of Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) in Sweden, and adviser to the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

Fun Fact: In 1950, the worldwide infant mortality rate was 15 percent; in 2016, it was 3 percent.                                             

He presents data in a visually friendly format made for the statistics-averse person, and offers ways for us to understand “facts” and put them in context. In 2016, there were 10 commercial airline accidents ending in passengers’ deaths—which is alarming, especially if you were on one of the planes; but it was 10 out of 40 million commercial flights.

Enlivened with anecdotes from his own experiences of working on the front lines where people struggle daily to survive, he identifies those “mega misconceptions” that we hold about the so-called developing world, world population, terrorism and violence, and examines the “instincts” that give us a distorted lens through which to view the world, such as a binary Us-Them way of thinking, or the fear instinct (Really, fear seems to sell better than sex.)   

Fun Fact: In 1997, 42 percent of the populations of both India and China lived in extreme poverty. By 2017, the percentage in India had dropped to 12 percent; in China, it had dropped to 0.7 percent.

He emphasizes that to acknowledge, even celebrate, this progress is not to ignore the immense suffering of people who yet live in extreme poverty or of those caught up in the horrors of war. He argues that we can admit both, that things are bad and they’re so much better, and use this as a call to further positive action.

Finally, at the end of his life, Rosling makes a plea for dialogue and for mutual understanding in a time of extreme divisiveness: “I have been wrong about the world so many times. Sometimes, coming up against reality is what helps me see my mistakes, but often it is talking to, and trying to understand, someone with different ideas.”

With this book, Hans Rosling left us a humane and sane legacy.



This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (November 25, 2018-January 9, 2019.) Reprinted with permission.