When we have a fact-based worldview, we can see that the world is not as bad as it seems – and we can see what we have to do to keep making it better.

Hans Rosling, Factfulness

Charts and maps and data, oh my! I am a HUGE fan of all three, so naturally Factfulness is one of my favorite reads of 2020. In the book, Hans Rosling shares a lifetime of anecdotes to support his optimistic interpretation of World Health Organization data. Unfortunately, during the writing and publishing of the book Hans was diagnosed with a terminal illness while his children Ola and Anna completed the book.

Factfulness is packed with examples of the astounding progress the world has achieved in the past half-century. If this sounds counter-intuitive to what we hear from the daily media, it is! Factfulness outlines 10 instincts through which we view the world as a counter-point to the way the media portrays the world:

  1. Gap – data only lives in one extreme or another
  2. Negativity – we expect bad news
  3. Straight line – a linear trend might bend
  4. Fear – that scary events are the norm
  5. Size – always get enough data to compare, never use a single data point
  6. Generalization – look at both differences and similarities
  7. Destiny – slow change is still change
  8. Single Perspective – test your ideas with a variety of approaches
  9. Blame – avoid blaming a scapegoat; find causes, not villains
  10. Urgency – take small, sustainable steps in a crisis

Factfulness explains each of these instincts or biases with both stories of Hans’ many medical adventures and through the data visualizations compiled at Gapminder. In addition to eye-opening global data, the book presents thought-provoking images from Dollar Street to challenge our concepts of “third world” and “not like us”. Factfulness is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding their place in the world today and the future.