As a fan of the late Swedish physician and academic Hans Rosling as well as his use of data to examine development issues, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Hans Rosling, and Ola Rosling’s “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You” felt not only like a disappointing rehash of his famous presentations, but a 10-chapter product which could have been further condensed, by stripping away repetitive statistics and anecdotes – especially the fact that many of us, including experts, know little about the world and its development – getting to the point early in each chapter while drawing connections with other authors and their publications (Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast And Slow” comes to mind), and front-loading the 10 “factfulness” principles and perhaps even organising them together in an explanatory framework. On the other hand, the addition of real-life examples applying these principles together with their impact on governments, companies, or non-profit organisations would have enriched the discourse.
Notwithstanding these expectations, Rosling did a great job of setting the context, especially by rejecting the labels of the “developed world” and the “developing world”, instead offering a four-category model based on income, living on: (1) $1 to $4 a day; (2) $4 to $8 a day; (3) $16 to $32 a day; and (4) more than $32 a day. The categorical terms matter, because they frame how individuals understand or misunderstand the world, a phenomenon emphasised across the 10 chapters. Factfulness in a nutshell – gap (look for the majority), negativity (expect bad news), straight line (lines might bend), fear (calculate the risks), size (get things in proportion), generalisation (question your categories), destiny (slow change is still change), single (get a tool box), blame (resist pointing your finger), and urgency (take small steps) – is anchored by the underlying proposition that the world is mostly better than it has ever been. And most people are leading increasingly better lives.
Arguing that the world is not as frightening, violent, hopeless, or dramatic as it is perceived, “Factfulness” – using the frame of the aforementioned four-category model – summarises: “In fact, the vast majority of the world’s population lives somewhere in the middle of the income scale. Perhaps they are not what we think of as middle class, but they are not living in extreme poverty. Their girls go to school, their children get vaccinated, they live in two-child families, and they want to go abroad on holiday, not as refugees. Step-by-step, year-by-year, the world is improving. Not on every single measure every single year, but as a rule. Though the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress. This is the fact-based worldview”. Many are likely to balk at such unbridled optimism, even if the authors acknowledge that problems exist and much remains to be done, yet it is hard to disagree that this is a meaningful start.