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Books about global statistics and trends tend to moonlight as insomnia medication. However, Hans Rosling’s Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, written with the help of his son and daughter-in-law, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, is something of a page-turning thriller. How is that possible?
Flatiron Books (2018). 352 pp. $27.99.
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Such books also suffer an inevitable fate: In the blink of an eye, every chart and data set becomes obsolete, requiring endless new editions. Factfulness will prove useful a generation from now, even if it never produces a second edition. How is that possible?
The recently deceased Rosling, a Swedish global health expert and TED talk phenomenon, seemed an older male version of Pollyanna, a naïve optimist bursting with enthusiasm about his state-of-the-art “bubble charts” that show the world getting better on nearly every available metric. He was actually a determined realist who preferred the term “possibilist.” And with this posthumously published book, the “possibilist” achieved the seemingly impossible: a gripping and evergreen book about global statistics and trends.
Stroke - Book - Facts - Tons - United
This he accomplishes by a stroke of genius: Instead of just a book about facts (there are metric tons of those, brilliantly delivered and derived almost entirely from official United Nations reports), he writes about the minds that interpret the facts. Namely, he identifies 10 fallacies of thought that conspire to blind us to reality. He calls them mental “instincts,” and he gives them helpful labels: “The Gap Instinct” (imagining yawning chasms between “us” and “them,” “here” and “over there”), “The Straight Line Instinct” (imagining that trends continue in straight lines), “The Blame Instinct” (always searching for a nefarious single cause), and on and on it goes. Factfulness is about mind-altering facts—many of its charts simply blow the mind, particularly pages 60–63—but it’s also...
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