Book review: Factfulness

Book review: Factfulness

Factfulness, a recently published book by Swedish international health expert Hans Rosling, is fascinating. It is a book that challenges the way that we see the world. And for the better.

This is not a Christian book, but it is a book that all thoughtful Christians could benefit from. And it is entertaining to read as well!

The basic thesis of Factfulness is that we should have a view of the world based on facts. That, you might think, is not a controversial thing to say. The controversy comes from Hans Rosling’s assertion that the world is not actually the way we think it is. It is, in fact, significantly better than we think it is.

Using only widely-accepted data from the World Bank, the World Health Organisation and United Nations agencies, the author challenges the way that readers from developed countries see the rest of the world. I learnt a great many things I did not know. For example, I learnt that the amount of people who live in extreme poverty in the world has halved in the past twenty years. The average life expectancy of the world overall is around 70. Around 90% of the world’s children have been immunised against at least one disease. And the gap between the way people live in the previously poorer countries in the world and the developed West is getting smaller.

Essentially, the world, especially what is commonly known as the developing world, is better than we think it is. That’s not to say there are not real problems. The author differentiates between something that is bad and something that is better. It is possible that things might be still bad and needing attention while also being significantly better than they used to be.

What is truly fascinating is the explanation Hans Rosling gives as to why we have a distorted worldview, one that does not fit the actual facts of the world. There are many factors, and this book explores some very useful ones. The media has a role to play, of course, in highlighting the dramatic while not deeming positive news stories as worthy of publication. We are more likely to be drawn to a shark attack story than a story recounting how deaths from malaria have dropped for another year.

We all have biases in how we see the world. For example, we tend to split the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’, divisions that over-generalise the wider world. We are also keen to blame people for problems instead of thinking through the systematic issues that led to them. We tend to simplify things that cannot be easily simplified. And we can form our worldviews based on fear instead of on facts, something seen clearly in immigration debates around the world in recent years.

I warmly recommend this book as a way of challenging your worldview. At the very least, you might learn some useful information on the current state of the ‘developing’ world. And at most, you might find that you have all kinds of biases you were unaware of, driven by fear and ignorance and the media. All of us need to be more thoughtful when we think of world issues.

For Christians, being informed about these things matters because we care about the world and the people in it very deeply as God’s world and people made in God’s image. To know what to pray for, what help is needed, and to avoid thinking ourselves superior to our friends across the world, we need to get our facts right. And to that end, Hans Rosling has done us a great service in this book.