“One of the most important books I’ve ever read―an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world.” – Bill Gates
“Hans Rosling tells the story of ‘the secret silent miracle of human progress’ as only he can. But Factfulness does much more than that. It also explains why progress is so often secret and silent and teaches readers how to see it clearly.” ―Melinda Gates
Factfulness: The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.
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, Professor of International Health and global TED phenomenon Hans Rosling, together with his two long-time collaborators, Anna and Ola, offers 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 (usually some version of us and them) to the way we consume media (where fear rules) to how we perceive progress (believing that most things are getting worse).
Our problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know, and even our guesses are informed by unconscious and predictable biases.
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.
Inspiring and revelatory, filled with lively anecdotes and moving stories, Factfulness is an urgent and essential book that will change the way you see the world and empower you to respond to the crises and opportunities of the future.
This was a breakthrough to me. The framework Hans enunciates is one that took me decades of working in global development to create for myself, and I could have never expressed it in such a clear way. I’m going to try to use this model moving forward.
Why does it matter? It’s hard to pick up on progress if you divide the world into rich countries and poor countries. When those are the only two options, you’re more likely to think anyone who doesn’t have a certain quality of life is “poor.”
Hans compares this instinct to standing on top of a skyscraper and looking down at a city. All of the other buildings will look short to you whether they’re ten stories or 50 stories high. It’s the same with income. Life is significantly better for those on level 2 than level 1, but it’s hard to see that from level 4 unless you know to look for it.
The four levels are just one of many insights in Factfulness that will help you better understand the world. I’m excited that Hans’ publisher Flatiron Books plans to donate 5,000 copies to Books for Africa and Reader to Reader—two organizations that encourage reading in underserved communities. Hans worked on the book until his last days (even bringing several chapters with him in the ambulance to the hospital), and his son Ola and daughter-in-law Anna helped finish it after he passed.
The bulk of the book is devoted to ten instincts that keep us from seeing the world factfully. These range from the fear instinct (we pay more attention to scary things) to the size instinct (standalone numbers often look more impressive than they really are) to the gap instinct (most people fall between two extremes). With each one, he offers practical advice about how to overcome our innate biases.
Hans argues that these instincts make it difficult to put events in perspective. Imagine news coverage about a natural disaster—say, a tornado that kills 10 people in a small town. If you look at only the headlines, you’ll view the event as an unbearable tragedy (which it is). But if you put it in the context of history, you’ll also know that tornadoes today are a lot less deadly than they used to be, thanks to advanced warning systems. That’s no consolation to the loved ones of those who died, but it matters a great deal to everyone who survived the tornado.
In other words, the world can be both bad and better. That idea drives the work Melinda and I do every day, and Hans articulates it beautifully in Factfulness. It’s a great companion to Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now (although Hans is a little less academic than Pinker is). With rare exceptions, most of the miracles of humankind are long-term, constructed things. Progress comes bit by bit. We’ve cut the number of people living in extreme poverty by half over the last twenty years, but there was never a morning when “POVERTY RATES DROP INCREMENTALLY” dominated newspaper headlines.
Another remarkable thing about Factfulness—and about Hans himself—is that he refuses to judge anyone for their misconceptions. Most writers would beat people up for their ignorance, but he doesn’t. Hans even resists going after the media. Instead, he tells you about the history of his own ignorance. He explains that these instincts make us human, and that overcoming them isn’t easy.
That’s classic Hans. He was always kind, often patient, and never judgmental. He spent his life not only understanding how global health was improving but sharing what he learned in a fun, clear way with a broad set of people. If you never met Hans or watched one of his many TED talks, Factfulness will help you get a sense of why he was so special. I wish I could tell Hans how much I liked it. Factfulness is a fantastic book, and I hope a lot of people read it.
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