Terrorist attacks, floods, fires and the resurgence of the far-right. It seems as though every corner of the world is becoming more unstable and less safe.
What a perfect time to pick up Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World – and Why Things are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, a world-renowned Swedish professor of international health, and author, who was listed as one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.
I was skeptical at first. I assumed that Factfulness must have been written pre-Trump when, in fact, it was written in 2017. Rosling’s mission is to show that most of us have a hopelessly outdated view of the world – one that ignores the steady progress of humankind.
He starts the book with a quiz, asking readers about global trends such as what percentage of the world lives in poverty, why the world’s population is increasing and how many girls in the world finish school.
I failed with a score of 6/13. Rosling has given this quiz thousands of times to teachers, journalists, investment bankers and Nobel laureates.
Astonishingly, the average score for the quiz is 2 and no one has ever got a perfect score. A stunning 15 per cent received zero.
So, why do we think the world is in much worse shape than it is? Rosling and his co-authors, Ola Rosling and Ana Rosling Runnland, review ten basic human instincts that distort our perspective. Those include our tendency to divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’, how we read the news and how we perceive progress.
Of course, many real concerns in the world require action, but this book will help all of us take a less dramatic, fear-based view of events. Factfulness gives practical tips on how to avoid misleading numbers, to question categories, to see that slow change is still change and to keep things in proportion.
At first, Rosling’s certainty that he is right, and most of the rest of the world is wrong, was off-putting. But even as I found his argumentative style distinctly un-Canadian, I couldn’t help but be won over. And, more than that, once finished, I can’t wait to persuade others to pick up this book.
Factfulness was recommended to me by a Spanish friend who works as a translator for the EU. A few months ago over lunch, we compared Spanish and Canadian cultures. We relied on some generalizations, but also found it easy to spot many similarities in our lives. I’m sure she wished that those prolonging the work she was having to do, translating for Brexit talks, would read Factfulness and rethink some of their assumptions.
Heather Allen is a book reviewer for Black Press who lives in the Okanagan.
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