Five Star Book Reviews: Factfulness

Today one of my students showed me the new English words she’d learned last week from Factfulness, which I’d recommended to her. Included on the list were: “devastatingly,” “mislead,” and “gag.” Damn good words!

Factfulness is somewhere between a book on political economics (or is it human behavior? Rural medicine? 20th-century history? Circus performance?) and an autobiography. Hans Rosling had a wild, funny, and illuminating life, anecdotes from which he uses as illustrations of his message.

And his message is that we’re wrong about out picture of the world. We see and remember news about the violent, the extreme, and the bizarre, but those hair-raising stories give us a skewed and inaccurate picture of the world, which is far wealthier, healthier, and more peaceful than ever before.

Clever so-and-so that he was, Rosling combats the bizarre with the bizarre, reinforcing his story of plodding, boring, incremental improvement with outlandish stories from his life, which seems to have been mostly conducting emergency medical procedures, swallowing swords, and talking his way out of having to eat larvae. The author’s humor and compassion shine through every page.

For a long time I’ve been unhappy watching the news, which presents the world as if it’s an action movie. Entertaining to watch, maybe, but when it’s over and you wonder what you’re supposed to do, the dread starts to set in. Rosling, however, presents a picture of the world as it is – a much duller place than the one presented to us by the media, but a much better place to live in.

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