Factfulness : ten reasons we're wrong about the world-and why things are better than you think

by Hans Rosling

Other authorsOla Rosling (Author.), Anna Rosling Rönnlund (Author.)
Hardcover, 2018




New York : Flatiron Books, [2018]


INSTANTNEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER "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. ButFactfulness 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 by Hans Rosling, an outstanding international public health expert, is a hopeful book about the potential for human progress when we work off facts rather than our inherent biases." - Former U.S. President Barack Obama 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. InFactfulness, Professor of International Health and global TED phenomenon Hans Rosling, together with his two long-time collaborators, Anna and Ola, offersa radical new explanation of why this happens. They revealthe ten instincts that distort our perspective--from our tendency to divide the world into two camps (usually some version ofus andthem) 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,Factfulnessis 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 book is my last battle in my life-long mission to fight devastating ignorance...Previously I armed myself with huge data sets, eye-opening software, an energetic learning style and a Swedish bayonet for sword-swallowing. It wasn't enough. But I hope this book will be." Hans Rosling, February 2017.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member flydodofly
Hans Rosling is my hero; for speaking up, for keeping at it, for explaining over and over and over, and generally getting it right.
LibraryThing member sami7
Great read. Short & always to the point.
Main takeaways:
- Look for causes not villains.
- Be wary of lonely numbers.
- Always look for trends.
- The four levels instead of developing/developed.
- Always question genelerizations.
- The right here right now, the rushing of desicions.
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LibraryThing member walkingbetween
I don't think I have ever read a more valuable book. I am sooo glad that I chose to read this one after seeing the recommendation from Bill Gates. I feel so lucky to have the fortune to read (and hopefully benefit from) the incredible lifetime work of Hans Rosling (who was working on the draft up till his last days). Not only from reading this you gain a clearer way of thinking about the world, thinking for yourself, but through the sentences and words you get to know an extraordinary man. I can't recommend this highly enough.

People like to talk about books that change your life. I think what is more extraordinary is books that change the way you think.
This is one of those books.
Anyone who claims himself/herself to be a clear thinking person should read this.
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LibraryThing member Guide2
A must read to better understand the world of today and how it
LibraryThing member infjsarah
Everyone should read this book.
LibraryThing member damcg63
Just excellent - a must read and a keeper
LibraryThing member jpsnow
Factfulness provokes the reader to reconsider what they know about how the world is changing and, more importantly, what they know about their own thought processes responsible for these beliefs. The world around us is getting significantly better. Poverty has dropped. Education has risen. The most noticeable thing that hasn't changed is our strong bias toward perceiving things as they were in the past. People tend toward a common set of biases that lead to dramatic misinterpretations about the world around us. By taking objective data and framing it exceptionally well, the Rosling family teaches new insights and new ways of thinking. I also appreciated how well the analytic charts are presented.The Roslings' innovation included ideas about data visualization and how to combine metrics effectively.… (more)
LibraryThing member Lakenvelder
Progress in the word is not shown in the most positive way in media coverage. There tends
to be a major focus on negative aspects of our word. It turns out our world is a much better place and state than most of us envision.This book will change the way you see the world.
LibraryThing member thcson
Political arguments and political news should be backed up with statistics and budget tradeoffs to have real meaning. Those statistics need to be something more than isolated, deliberately selected numbers. They should involve comparisons over time and over comparable items. But making statistical comparisons is difficult, and few people will be interested in an argument or report they can't understand. So political debate steers toward simple messages with emotional appeal rather than factful arguments with rational appeal.

The author of this book argues that an amazingly large proportion of ordinary educated people are woefully ignorant of the true state of the world. The examples he cites have to do mostly with knowledge of the UN's global development statistics, but I presume that similar ignorance reigns in other areas as well. One reason for ignorance is that political activists are eager to exaggerate their point by distorting and cherry-picking their statistics. Another is that news media are eager to do the same as they compete with each other. The audience of these activists and news media are in turn eager to sign up for a good cause on emotional grounds, but reluctant to check and criticize the purported facts that motivate the cause.

This book presents ten pitfalls that common sense reasoning can lead to and recommends a few simple practices for avoiding each one. Based on what the author writes, most people will not have thought about these things before. Even if you belong in the minority which more or less knew this stuff already, the pitfalls are still summarized and explained so elegantly and clearly in this book that the hours you spend reading it will have been spent well. The discussion is quite brief, and personally I would have preferred a deeper analysis of the root causes behind this ignorance. Political activists and news media are exonerated far too easily by the author even though they mostly just soil their own den with shortsighted misrepresentation of the truth.

The book is an easy read and it will no doubt reach a broad audience, just like the author seems to have done in his lifetime. Hopefully most of his readers will be led to do more thinking and comparing before supporting political causes, and not just to be more sceptical about all facts.
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LibraryThing member Pepperwings
A great look at our misconceptions about wealth and poverty, and how that affects us, as well as other countries. How the media shows small slices, and yet, they aren't ultimately to blame for the problems we have as a society in understanding. There's a lot of hope out there, but we're trained to keep looking for the dark and ways to worry.… (more)
LibraryThing member authorjanebnight
I really think this book is awesome and that everyone should read it. The information given is really important to give a perspective on modern life.

This book is a bit math heavy and there are times it is a bit dense of a read. There are graphs and stats and the more you understand about math the better you will probably enjoy this book.

The writer also has some TED talks available on YouTube and I recommend looking at those before reading the book. You will get a feel for what this book is about and the content within.

One thing to be aware of is that stats can be bent around to prove different points so how accurate all this info is can be hard to determine. But, the overall information seems logical to me based on my studies and what I have learned from history.

I really loved how the author admits that there are many things we can still improve on in the world. The math says this is one of the best times in human history to live but hopefully we can make a future that is even better.

I loved how he didn't sweep the very real concerns of modern life and the pitfalls under the rug. The author admits that there are areas for improvement and hopefully the number of people living in poverty keeps dropping while life expectancy keeps improving.

I really enjoyed this book and feel that it is hugely beneficial for people who maybe are suffering because they believe the world is terrible and all doom and gloom. The math says things are better. The math says things can keep improving. Don't lose hope despite the things we see on social media that makes the world look like a scary terrible place far removed from the idealized images of the past portrayed by the media and society.
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LibraryThing member Jthierer
This book challenges a lot of assumptions people make about the world and the direction its heading. I’ll be honest, I’ve been credibly accused of being a bit of a pessimist about the state of humanity, especially in the past few years. However, by using facts (and citing his sources) Hans Rosling makes a compelling case that instead of getting worse we’re actually doing better than we’ve ever been. Education and vaccination rates are up and people living in poverty is down. Once he’s convinced you that what you think you know is wrong, Rosling goes on to outline why you had those inaccurate/outdated beliefs to begin with. While I found the summaries at the end of each chapter a bit patronizing, I definitely learned from reading this book and plan to keep it for a re-read when I need a refresher on some of the concepts. If you’re looking for a serious scholarly tome, this isn’t it, but I enjoyed the conversational writing and have already recommended it to a colleague.… (more)
LibraryThing member publiusdb
Things were not better when we were kids. Not by a long shot. As one of my heroes once said: "There never was a greater time in the history of the world to live upon the earth than this. How grateful every one of us ought to feel for being alive in this wonderful time with all the marvelous blessings we have." This is true.

We read "Factfulness" for the Manly Book Club last month. I cannot recommend it more. It's one of those books that, like law school, teaches you more about how to think than what to think (though there is a lot of data and "what to think" that Hans Rosling mixes in, as well). Full of interesting ideas, anecdotes, and optimism, as well as lots and lots of charts and infographics, I found Factfulness a fascinating, thought-provoking, and humbling book to read. I didn't agree with everything in it, but it taught me much and made me feel more humble.

Read it. I'll buy you lunch if you don't get something from the experience.
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LibraryThing member espadana
A brilliant book by a brilliant communicator, Factfulness (Rosling’s last book before his death at the beginning of 2017) is an important book which will give you a better, fact-based view of the world - and make you realise that despite the many problems it still faces, it is probably not in such a bad shape as you might think.… (more)
LibraryThing member nmarun
It was pure luck and I scored just about 50% in the initial questions.

The best takeaway of this book is 'world can be both bad and better'. Knowing that things are a lot better from what it was last year, last decade, last century, will assist us to improve things even more.

I've heard this from multiple experts that Statistics is the zenith of Mathematics. This book proves that again. Being able to interpret Statistical results helps us in many domains - how not to fall for the averages, the negativity instinct and the media bias are just a couple of examples that are demonstrated in the book.

"When you hear about something terrible, calm yourself by asking, if there had been an equally large positive improvement, would I have heard about that?" - a simple statement, but would take years of practice to follow.

Each chapter ends with a 'Factfulness...' statement that succinctly tells what the chapter was all about and what we learned from those examples. I would not recommend skipping the chapter and finish the book by just reading those 'Factfulness' statements though.

A few years ago, I watched Dr Rosling's TedTalk some time back and I was deeply impressed by his graphs and how he explained them. 'The greater the understanding, the lesser the number of variables used in the explanation.' - the simplicity of the author's language reminded me of this statement while reading most parts of the book.
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LibraryThing member expatscot
Stupendous book, can't imagine the impact it'd have if you weren't already familiar with Hans Rosling's work.

EVERYONE should read this, it'd be a whole lot better and better informed world if they did.
LibraryThing member rivkat
People overestimate the worldwide percentage of women who haven’t graduated primary school, the percentage in the worst poverty (under $1/day), the percentage that haven’t been vaccinated for anything at all, and similar things—though not the level of consensus on climate change. The book principally argues that (1) lots of people in countries that rich Westerners think of as poor are doing better than we imagine, with implications for business and foreign policy as well as for fixing the remaining terrible problems that do exist, and (2) rather than there being a big divide between rich and poor countries, there are four relevant groupings, with the kind of people who read books like this largely unable to distinguish the incredibly important ways that $1/day is much different than $16/day. The most powerful incident in the book is Hans’s story of how, working to improve health in an African country, he contributed to horrific deaths: there was an outbreak of sickness that probably wasn’t contagious, but when a worried local official suggested a quarantine, he agreed. They shut down the roads to the city, and the women and children who needed to get to the city to make a living used boats instead … which, overloaded, capsized and drowned the passengers. This is part of the background for the arguments that (1) we should assume that people have reasons for what they’re doing that reflect their resources, values and desires, and (2) sometimes we should wait and gather more data before acting, which seems both true and also often unhelpful if you can’t figure out in advance when that would be true, especially since the arguments of the book oscillate between “not everyone is alike” and “we share basic needs and goals.”… (more)
LibraryThing member aadyer
A really very good introduction into public health statistics and the cognitive biases that prevent us from seeing fact based viewpoints. This is especially important in the western world with its pervasive media promoting an dramatic world as a baseline. Looking at prejudices as well as insightful views, this is a book for the curious and the intellectually minded. Recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member Sovranty
If you need hope or positive feelings about the world and its inhabitants, start here. Positive statistics in many subjects, if you are not up-to-date. The author did come across as a bit egotistical in his knowledge and experience of others' beliefs.
LibraryThing member AlisonY
Han Gosling - medical doctor, Professor of International Health and all round superhero - died in 2017, and boy do I wish he was still around in these COVID times.

If you've never heard of him before, Rosling was a Swede who started life as a medical doctor, working in many different countries across the world before his experience led him into the world of research. There, he made a name for himself as a renowned public educator, advising WHO and UNICEF. He also co-founded Médecins Sans Frontières in Sweden, spoke at numerous international conferences and become a bit of a TED Talks legend. This career journey led him on a path to becoming a champion about people properly understanding the true facts of global issues, as in his experience no matter how senior or educated the individual, there was a common thread of not working to the right set of facts, or at least interpreting the facts correctly. He co-founded Gapminder with his son and daughter-in-law, which is focused on the elimination of ignorance in the world around issues such as global poverty, climate change and education.

Gosling was diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer just as he was starting to write this book with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, so it's truly a swansong of the most important things he'd learnt about misconceptions and ignorance on world issues. Written in a very accessible format (i.e. you don't need to be a maths geek to appreciate it), Rosling shows us how our assumptions and interpretations of information are often wrong, and at the end of every chapter gives life tips on how to interpret facts going forward so that we get the full picture. And it's fascinating stuff. Rosling refers to himself as a possibilist rather than an optimist, and in this book works to demonstrate how much the world has progressed and is actually improving in most areas, despite the doom and gloom outlook that's presented to us in the press. Across 10 chapters he explains 10 different issues that cause us to go with the wrong takeaways from information, such as our urgency instinct and destiny instinct, and explains how world poverty (or wealth) should not be viewed from the perspective of developed world / undeveloped world - or 'them' and 'us' - but rather as 4 different levels of income.

Where Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund come in is that they have made a name for themselves creating a different way of visually presenting this type of data, and the book is packed full of their interesting graphics which really do help the data stick in your head than the usual line graphs or bar charts.

Spookily, Hans Rosling states towards the end of the book that he believes there are 5 main issues of concern still in the world, and #1 on his list was the risk of a global pandemic, because we'd been there before and it was highly likely. Given Rosling's understanding of the media needing to make their living from reporting depressing rather than optimistic news, I wish he was still around to give us the true facts on COVID-19, as we're all aware of how much inconsistency there is in the data being reported.

4 stars - a superbly interesting and thought-provoking read that will stick with me.
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LibraryThing member paven
This book is a must read for everyone!
LibraryThing member malexmave
An important book, I think. Even though there are some problems (see the top-rated critical reviews here), I still believe that the principle of the book is sound and important, even if the underlying details and methods used for illustration are partially questionable.
LibraryThing member nicdevera
A milestone work, should be required reading and the default starting point for anyone thinking about the future. You can disagree with the implications/conclusions but we have to start from the incontrovertible statistics.
LibraryThing member Mike_B
Great book. The charts are difficult to view on a Kindle Paperwhite.
LibraryThing member eglinton
Jaunty Swedish professor updating us on the encouraging spread of health and prosperity globally, and the stubborn reluctance of people to conform to stereotypes. He’s an affable companion, and genially throws in anecdotes from many years as a medic in “developing” countries. The “Factfulness” questionnaires that Rosling sets up to debunk would seem to include some straw men, but the responses he tabulates here, from assorted international symposia, do suggest the need for a corrective to those still tempted to think of the Third World as a destitute, lawless, unsophisticated periphery. Practical, upbeat, and engaging.… (more)



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