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Factfulness: A Book Review

“This is data as you have never known it: it is data as therapy. It is understanding as a source of mental peace. Because the world is not as dramatic as it seems.”

– Hans Rosling, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

If that speaks to you at all, this book is for you. If it doesn’t, don’t bother.

For The Love of Facts and Stories

It’s packed full of data, as you would expect in a book called Factfulness Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. That’s why I like it. But I love it because Rosling’s stories are full of points that twist my thoughts and show me a better way to look at the world.

Most books use 50,000 words to make the same point over and over again. About halfway through I lose interest. Not so with Rosling. He has 10 points, each with a story that makes the data stick. To read gut-wrenching stories like Rosling’s and then to see data that back’s up each point he makes feels almost revolutionary.

That said, this book is not for everyone. It’s about how to look at data, poverty, and healthcare. If that sounds like a snooze, don’t buy it. What you need to know is this:

The World is Getting Better

Life can be bad and hard for many people, and it can also be getting better.

Most people in the world are some form of middle class. The poorest one billion people live on about $1 per day ($365/year). Another 3 billion live on about $4 per day ($1,460/year). Two billion on $16 a day ($5,840/year) and roughly 1 billion people live on $64 per day ($23,360+ per year), according to Factfulness on pages 34-37.

There is a giant gap between the poorest and the richest people, but most world citizens live somewhere in the middle-class. People’s lives have gotten better over the last 50 years

“Almost everyone in the world is becoming a consumer. If you suffer from the misconception that most of the world is still too poor to buy anything at all, you risk missing out on the biggest economic opportunity in world history,” according to Factfulness, page 150.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Americans are a small percent of the world population (about 4%) but our values have spread throughout the world. Almost everyone is a consumer now, just like us. The pursuit of happiness is not exclusive to 4% of the world. Most people want the same things we do.

“So let’s be realistic about what the 5 billion people in the world who still wash their clothes by hand are hoping for and what they will do everything they can to achieve,” he writes. “They want washing machines, electric lights, decent sewage systems, a fridge to store food.”

“Unless you are willing to forgo all these things and start hand washing your jeans and bedsheets, why should you expect them to?” he continues. “We must put our efforts into investing in new technologies that will enable 11 billion people to live the life that we should expect all of them to strive for,” according to Factfulness, on pages 220 and 221.

If there’s one thing I want you to know, it’s that. It’s why we can’t use lifestyle changes as the battle cry for today’s environmental movement. I like my lifestyle. Billions of people around the world want lives just like mine because I’m living the American dream, and it’s pretty awesome.

Roslings Work Continues

Rosling died before the book was published. He co-wrote it with this son Ola Rosling and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Ronnlund, but their work continues on GapMinder.org. There you’ll find fascinating graphs and resources especially useful guides for teachers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and environmentally conscious world citizens. It’s an easy site to lose time in, so if you only have a minute, visit GapMinder’s Dollar Street to see how people live on every budget.

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