Author: Hans Rosling
Review by: Jim Reed, president of YKK Corp. of America
On October 17, 2004, Mari Larsen, a 38-year-old resident of northern Sweden and single mother of three, is brutally murdered by her ex-lover. That same day, in another part of northern Sweden, Johan Vesterlund, a 40-year-old father of three, is hunting in the woods where he is attacked and killed by a bear.
In Factfulness, author Hans Rosling uses these two tragedies to highlight how our fear instinct (one of the 10 instincts presented in this book) actually blinds us to real dangers in the world.
His prime example: One woman is killed every month by her significant other in Sweden, but Ms. Larsen’s murder barely made the local paper. No one had been killed by a bear in Sweden since 1902, and the attack garnered national and even global news coverage.
According to Mr. Rosling, Swedes are 1,300 times more likely to be murdered by their partner than a bear, but our fear instinct misguides us to focus on the danger of bears. The 24-hour news cycle, always looking for the sensational, feeds our misdirection.
But this is not a book on human psychology. It is a thoughtful effort to break us out of our outdated view of the world. Factfulness dismantles our pre-conceived notions of East versus West and the Developed World versus the Third World through a presentation of global data in creative and clear ways.
One of the most impactful parts of the book is how Rosling paints vivid pictures of how people around the world actually live. He places people in four categories, Levels I, II, III, and IV. The 1 billion humans living in Level I suffer from extreme poverty, do not have access to health care, and earn less than $1 per day.
On the other side of the scale, the one billion living in Level IV earn more than $64 per day, have at least 12 years of education, drive cars, and take airplanes to go on vacation. The other five billion live in between, and are moving up the scale with each generation. This complex portrait is further supported through Rosling’s legacy Gapminder Institute, which offers a treasure of data and lectures. Once there, I encourage you to check out ‘Dollar Street,’ where you can see thousands of photographic examples of how people around the world and at all income levels live.
In the end, Mr. Rosling is able to show how there is really no such thing as the “good old days,” and that while things are not good everywhere around the world, they are improving. He aptly analogizes the world to a premature baby in the NICU. Yes, things are not great, AND they are getting better (I appreciate his refusal to use the word “but”).
I highly recommend that anyone read this book who may be interested in seeing the world in a more clear-eyed and intelligent way.
But do not take my word for it, it was Bill Gates’ favorite book of 2018 as well. Hans Rosling died in 2017, and Factfulness and the companion information found at gapminder.org is a fitting tribute to a mind well used and a life well lived.