This week’s post is a book review. The book is called “Factfulness – 10 reasons We are Wrong about the World – and Why Things are Better Than You Think”. The book was written by Hans Rosling and completed by his son and daughter-n-law upon Hans’s death in 2017.
The book deals with quite a bit of quantitative data to capture the ever-improving lives of humans around the globe. As a professor of international health, Hans discussed that upon his travels around the world to give speeches on this data, most people are unaware of how the lives of humans everywhere are improving.
He undertook writing the book to overcome the wrong impression that so many of us have about the state of our world. In the book they talk of ten instincts that distort our perspective, including how we consume media and how they use fear to distort how we perceive progress.
While they realize that there are some global concerns, they point out the fact that standard humans have considerably improved their lives over the last 200 years. One of the measures of this improvement is life expectancy.
Through the numerous charts throughout the book, they capture the data in a way that is easy to understand. With life expectancy, they use a chart of expected life span versus the average income in the various countries. As you would probably expect, the wealthy nations such Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland are in the top quartile or as he describes it level 4.
Hans describes how we should think about the various countries differently than we currently do. He believes that we should be discussing the countries as four distinct levels. The countries that continue to struggle with protecting the citizens from war and destruction (such as in Somalia or DR Congo) would be in level 1. Countries that have slightly longer lifespans and some additional income would be in level 2. These countries would be India, Vietnam and Kenya for example.
Level 3 countries would be countries described as emerging markets countries, but as the book points out it would better to describe countries as levels to not add stigma to their current situation. These countries would be China, Brazil, Egypt and Jordan.
One of the easiest ways to see the marked improvement is to explore some of the bad things that have occurred throughout time and see how we have markedly decreased these bad events. Using data collected from the United Nations, they show the significant decrease in such situations as child labor, smallpox, battle deaths, children dying before the fifth birthday, and hunger.
Reviewing just one of these things in further detail to show the incredible improvement – infant mortality. They discussed how societies can only protect the very vulnerable if they are doing very well. He shows the enormous increase that has occurred throughout the past 200 years.
Currently, there are no countries with a life expectancy below 50 years. Globally, the average length of life has increased from 31 years of age of 1800 to 72 years of age in 2017. Improved living conditions helped increase this number significantly as well as babies surviving childhood. Throughout history, among all babies who were ever born, roughly half died during their childhood.
Another way of looking at the improvement is with the increase in various good things. There has been significant improvement in many things since we were last learning about them in school. When Hans would give speeches, he would poll the audience on various topics concerning the state of the globe. The results were the same throughout the world. People aren’t aware of these significant improvements that have occurred. This includes highly educated audiences who often did even poorer on his pop quizzes.
Some of these improvements include the percentage of girls in school, increased harvests, literacy rates, immunization of a one-year old, women’s right to vote and access to mobile phones. The book highlights the steady improvement from 1980 until today while acknowledging that more needs to be done.
You can take the test as Hans delivers a Ted Talk here: See how you would do:
One of the most important books ever written – an indispensable guide to think clearly about the world
Hope you have a great week!
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