Factfulness – Hans Rosling (et al.)

“Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think”

If this looks vaguely familiar, you might recognise the cover or title from a mild celebrity induced frenzy from back in 2018. It almost became a competition to be the first influential celebrity to endorse the quality of writing and research Hans and co-writers created, which is centred around social mobility and perceptions across the world. It’s worthy to note that Hans sadly passed away during the writing of the book, and therefore his son and daughter in law took over writing about his vast research – therefore eventually being a posthumous release. It has since become one of the best reviewed books on many publication websites and (at time of writing) is still the best selling book in academic categories on Amazon.

I personally studied Geography at university (more human than physical), and from talking to a number of my professors and lecturers, it’s clear that Hans Rosling was on his way to changing definitions long standing within the media and contemporary world, such as “third world” and “developing/developed nation”. After reading I find myself guilty as charged on many assumptions we may have about others, but challenging and changing is all part the fun!

The book itself begins with a short quiz! Imagine my excitement as I was sitting there in my smug Bachelor of Science degree hat, a quiz about human geography!!!……. How wrong I was. Although it’s best to go into this absolutely blind (as it forms the main objective of the book) it serves a nice icebreaker from a author to reader perspective – almost feeling like a teacher to student. As an added bonus, there’s a lovely anecdote about the circus which gives us a good background on the author himself.

After this in the introduction, the book is divided into a further 11 unique chapters – each one challenging a unique perception and instinct we all have. Each one links back to answers provided by yours truly at the beginning of the book, and serves to essentially tell you how wrong you are. Occasionally (depending how proud you are) it can come across a tiny bit condescending, but the overall positive message that comes from each chapter far outweighs this.

What amazed me was the personality that’s conveyed throughout, and it almost feels like he’s directly having a conversation with you. “Factfulness is written in my voice, as if by me alone… but please don’t be misled… this is the work of 3 people” they begin, and to say they succeeded is an understatement. The “author” consistently asks for your input by asking questions and raising challenges, making you think about why you think a certain way. I’ve never experienced these sort of thoughts while reading a book – and even when they continue talking about anecdotes during their research – you almost have to remind yourself this is when you can just read and not have to think about anything!

I first read this book in February 2020, and I’m reviewing it now mainly due to the large impact it’s had on my day to day life. I regularly challenge myself about assumptions I make. Especially now since we’ve been thrust into this uncertain time, it’s more important than ever to think about what information you take in every day, and what perhaps you’re not seeing.

Since publication there’s been some mild controversy about Rosling being a “excessive optimist” – which is perhaps the happiest insult I’ve ever heard. Who wouldn’t want to be called that, right? Despite this, you can’t help but admire his conviction about the subject if nothing else. If he’s right about only 10% of what he writes about, maybe the world isn’t so bad after all?

In addition to this book, I would highly encourage anyone to travel down “Dollar Street” – an online tool often described in the book. It shows you in simple terms what relative money can get you around the world, and how lives compare.

Overall, I’m only going to leave this review with a couple of statements. One of the best compliments you can give a book, in my opinion, is to pass it onto someone else to enjoy. Factfulness has so far (beginning with myself) gone around 12 people, including all of my university friendship group (despite being from all over the country)! Finally, why are we so resistant to a bit of good news every now and then? There’s absolutely no crime in thinking that, (with the backup of some hard statistics) the world maybe isn’t as bad as we think; and for helping me believe that, it definitely earns its 5 stars.

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