The world is not that bad! Book review: Factfulness

Everyone agrees that 2020 was not the greatest year, and that 2021 has a great challenge ahead of it. Particularly speaking, one of my less successful plans for last year was to write more often here. And to try to do it differently in 2021, I will try to write reviews of the best books I read during the year. Feel free to send any feedback in the comments below, and I hope you enjoy it! 🙌🏽

To start the new series, I bring the last book I read in 2020: “Factfulness - 10 reasons why we are wrong about the world - and why things are better than you think”. As Bill Gates said, Factfulness is without a doubt “one of the most important books I have ever read”, and I will try to explain why.

What is Factfulness?

Factfulness, written by Hans Rosling, together with his two collaborators, Anna and Ola, his son and daughter-in-law, brings a radical explanation of why the world is becoming better and reveals the instincts that often make us have distorted views of reality.

Rosling was a doctor and teacher of International Health in Sweden. He has dedicated his life to two things: first, helping communities in different countries to achieve better health. He saved thousands of lives through direct medical work and by supporting local governments. The second was a passion to uncover lies and myths about the current state of the world.

The book covers topics such as economic development, public health, population growth, and education. Rosling, during his lectures and conferences around the world, presented his findings to authorities, government leaders and ordinary people like you and me. Surprisingly, 80% of people usually perform worse than chimpanzees by randomly answering questions. Rosling then began to investigate why we have a worldview that is not only wrong, but often more drastic than reality.

The gap instinct

The author begins the book by showing the idea of “the west and the rest of the world” that many of us still carry. Rosling breaks this vision proposing 4 levels of economic development:

  • Level 1: daily income of up to 2 dollars
  • Level 2: daily income of up to $8.
  • Level 3: daily income up to $32
  • Level 4: daily income over $32.

With this division, Rosling shows that between extreme poverty (level 1) and extreme wealth (level 4), there are levels 2 and 3. And guess what: there are 5 billion people in these two intermediate levels. People think instinctively at opposite ends, neglecting the ‘gap’ between where true development occurs.

20210110 income levels
Income per person in dollars per day adjusted for price differences

The gap is the first of the 10 instincts that make up the chapters of the book. Instincts are intuitive ways of thinking that originated during the evolution of our species. Fear, generalization, or guilt may have been useful in the past to quickly form judgments as preparation for action. But in our complex world, instincts obscure rational judgement, argues Rosling. Instead, we must be aware of our innate mental traps and use data to provide context and reveal trends.

Downside: climate change

The book, however, has received some criticism for being extremely optimistic, even in relation to global warming. Rosling mentions and acknowledges global warming, but fails by neglecting the necessary sense of urgency.

Conclusion

20210110 factfulness Factfulness is a fantastic collection of experiences and insights that help us to better understand how we have evolved. The 10 instincts presented in the book also help us to understand how some extremist movements have gained strength recently, such as anti-vaccine, fascists, and neo-Nazis movements. Ultimately, the author wants us to shift our focus to the five real risks for our humanity: poverty, pandemics, financial collapse, world war III and climate change.

My final rating for the book is 4.5/5. And I leave here the main message I take after finishing it: not everything is as bad as it seems. Our instincts can fool us, so always be equipped with reliable data and information. And a little bit of history and positivity doesn’t hurt anyone!

Happy 2021! 👋🏽