Review: Factfullness

This past summer, Bill Gates gave away one copy of this book to every single 2018 college graduate in the United States. Barack Obama just named it as one of his top books of 2018.

Factfulness is really that good.

If you weren’t one of the lucky ones, then, like me, you should pick up a copy for yourself.

I bought a Kindle version, and have repeatedly quoted sections of it when talking to friends and family members about how the world is changing. In fact, I’ve got several passages bookmarked because I refer to them so often.

For me, the one thing that best encapsulates the point of the book is this chart:

Number of babies per woman and childhood mortality rates. (Image courtesy Flatiron Books.)

In the picture above, you can see how the world is mostly divided into two parts. There’s the developing world, where people have big families, and many children die before reaching adulthood. But the same kind of picture can be generated for many other metrics of development as well, it’s not just the number of children.

Hans Rosling, the author of this book, has asked people all around the world about what they think of this situation, what the reasons are, and what the odds are of things changing for the better.

Most people respond that the problems are significant, and we won’t see significant improvement in our lifetimes.

Everyone I’ve shown this picture to, agrees. We all know that about the problem of population growth and global poverty, and how difficult it is for things to improve.

Then I flip the page.

That’s what the same graph looks like now.

The first one was from 1960.

Things have already changed, significantly for the better, almost everywhere in the world.

But most of us aren’t aware of this. We don’t know how substantial the improvement has been. The news reports focus on the worst places, places that still need help. As they should. People who need help should get attention and should get aid.

But in focusing on what still needs to be done, we’re missing the big picture. The fact that the world has changed. Not just in birth rates and death rates, but in almost every important metric, to a similar and unbelievable degree.

When business leaders and politicians and activists think of the world as it was more than fifty years ago, they miss the opportunities and the real issues of the world today.

I agree with Bill Gates.

This book is a must-read for anyone in business, in government, or who is just planning for their own future and that of their children. It’s important to start with an accurate understanding of what the world actually is.