Don’t let the simple language fool you, this is quite a good book, inspiring even, if you finish. After I got through the first, 1/3 arguing with the author like I was, I quite enjoyed it. In some ways Rosling’s thinking goes right along with Steven PInker’s in his books, The Better Angels of our Natures and Enlightenment Now. (reviews on this site). It might be more balanced than the Pinker books, but it goes further in covering some difficult issues as well as providing solutions.
So although it starts slow the book builds to dealing with how we can develop what Rosling calls “Factfulness” which includes specific critical thinking skills together with curiosity motivated, fact-based learning about the world while keeping the detrimental “instincts” out of the way or at least to a minimum. And it gathers momentum all the way to the amazing last couple of chapters.
Factfulness: 10 Reasons Why We’re Wrong About the World and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
by Hans Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund
read by Richard Harries – 8h 51m
Rating: 6 – nonfiction (social sciences)
The first third feels like it’s the “for dummies” version, but during Rosling’s mission in Mozambique in Chapter 5 it improves tremendously. By this time I was starting to think in global terms and that was enough to push me through the book, albeit with some reservations at first, but those were cleared up. Of note, is that this was NOT necessarily written for the US audience – (although there are a few paragraphs about the US) and I think Rosling’s genuine global view makes a difference.
Rosling, who passed away in 2017, was an award-winning Swedish doctor who had served in a lot of notable capacities and been involved in extra-ordinary projects. His efforts on behalf of sick and starving people in very poor countries are truly commendable.
The bulk of the book is nicely organized (I appreciate this kind of thing) around various “instincts” humans have. For instance there is “The Gap Instinct,” “The Fear Instinct,” “The Destiny Instinct” and others, ten of them in all bookended by other material. And included in these chapters are anecdotes and a “Factfulness” section which is comprised of measures for control of that instinct.
He tries to answer the question, “Why are we so negative?” and teach us how to deal with our runaway instincts. I was very skeptical for almost half the book but then he got into controls and qualifying facors and what it amounts to is solutions.
I do understand the situation of the US. First, historically we have been US-centric – the world revolves around us and we tend to know precious little about the rest of the planet. The US is not the only country which has changed.
Around the world there has been tremendous progress since 1970s while we have actually stagnated with some progress in some areas but not like it was in the 1950s. In fact, where we truly boomed for the whole century between 1870 and 1970 it was the result of a several fortuitous circum-stances.
It’s hard to be in the position of faded glory. To many Americans it feels like we’re actually going backwards, but we’re not. We’re just progressing much more slowly while the world is catching up and possibly pushing ahead in many areas and that’s been rather quickly. In light of what’s going on here, it makes taking Rosling’s guardedly optimistic world view rather difficult. (See Robert Gordon’s fabulous “The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War“ for more. (The link is to my review on this site.)