Bill Gates's Reviews > Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Factfulness by Hans Rosling
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it was amazing

I talk about the developed and developing world all the time, but I shouldn’t.

My late friend Hans Rosling called the labels “outdated” and “meaningless.” Any categorization that lumps together China and the Democratic Republic of Congo is too broad to be useful. But I’ve continued to use “developed” and “developing” in public (and on this blog) because there wasn’t a more accurate, easily understandable alternative—until now.

I recently read Hans’ new book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. In it, he offers a new framework for how to think about the world. Hans proposes four income groups (with the largest number of people living on level 2).

This was a breakthrough to me. The framework Hans enunciates is one that took me decades of working in global development to create for myself, and I could have never expressed it in such a clear way. I’m going to try to use this model moving forward.

Why does it matter? It’s hard to pick up on progress if you divide the world into rich countries and poor countries. When those are the only two options, you’re more likely to think anyone who doesn’t have a certain quality of life is “poor.”

Hans compares this instinct to standing on top of a skyscraper and looking down at a city. All of the other buildings will look short to you whether they’re ten stories or 50 stories high. It’s the same with income. Life is significantly better for those on level 2 than level 1, but it’s hard to see that from level 4 unless you know to look for it.

The four levels are just one of many insights in Factfulness that will help you better understand the world. I’m excited that Hans’ publisher Flatiron Books plans to donate 5,000 copies to Books for Africa and Reader to Reader—two organizations that encourage reading in underserved communities. Hans worked on the book until his last days (even bringing several chapters with him in the ambulance to the hospital), and his son Ola and daughter-in-law Anna helped finish it after he passed.

The bulk of the book is devoted to ten instincts that keep us from seeing the world factfully. These range from the fear instinct (we pay more attention to scary things) to the size instinct (standalone numbers often look more impressive than they really are) to the gap instinct (most people fall between two extremes). With each one, he offers practical advice about how to overcome our innate biases. Gates Notes Insiders can get a free preview of the gap instinct chapter.

Hans argues that these instincts make it difficult to put events in perspective. Imagine news coverage about a natural disaster—say, a tornado that kills 10 people in a small town. If you look at only the headlines, you’ll view the event as an unbearable tragedy (which it is). But if you put it in the context of history, you’ll also know that tornadoes today are a lot less deadly than they used to be, thanks to advanced warning systems. That’s no consolation to the loved ones of those who died, but it matters a great deal to everyone who survived the tornado.

In other words, the world can be both bad and better. That idea drives the work Melinda and I do every day, and Hans articulates it beautifully in Factfulness. It’s a great companion to Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now (although Hans is a little less academic than Pinker is). With rare exceptions, most of the miracles of humankind are long-term, constructed things. Progress comes bit by bit. We’ve cut the number of people living in extreme poverty by half over the last twenty years, but there was never a morning when “POVERTY RATES DROP INCREMENTALLY” dominated newspaper headlines.

Another remarkable thing about Factfulness—and about Hans himself—is that he refuses to judge anyone for their misconceptions. Most writers would beat people up for their ignorance, but he doesn’t. Hans even resists going after the media. Instead, he tells you about the history of his own ignorance. He explains that these instincts make us human, and that overcoming them isn’t easy.

That’s classic Hans. He was always kind, often patient, and never judgmental. He spent his life not only understanding how global health was improving but sharing what he learned in a fun, clear way with a broad set of people. If you never met Hans or watched one of his many TED talks, Factfulness will help you get a sense of why he was so special. I wish I could tell Hans how much I liked it. Factfulness is a fantastic book, and I hope a lot of people read it.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 3, 2018 – Finished Reading
May 18, 2018 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-28 of 28 (28 new)

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message 1: by Fergus (new) - added it

Fergus Great review about an auspicious book we ALL might like to read!


message 2: by Corey (new) - added it

Corey Is this actually Bill Gates' account?


message 3: by Jackie (new) - added it

Jackie I was also wondering the same thing, Corey...


Anne I'm reading it now and I'm amazed at how wrong I've been about so many things. Thanks Bill for recommending this life-changing book.


message 5: by Ned (new) - added it

Ned Sounds interesting, thanks for reviewing.


Michael Perkins Yes,. I believe Gates wrote this. It's on his short list of books to read over the summer. I'm reading it myself. This is how I first learned about the author....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbkSR...


message 7: by MG (new) - added it

MG He's going to buy 4 million copies damn


Elliott S. Thanks for the free book BillG. You da man.


Alison Thanks for recommending this as a summer read on Goodreads. I studied international relations a decade ago and learned all the bad tropes he discusses.

I’m glad to know the world is not as horrible as I seem to have thought. It can help motivate me to keep working on the things that need work!


Tania Bukach Thank you Me. Gates for gifting this book to 2018 grads. I just finished the first chapter and can already see the world in a different way.


Siddharth Chaturvedi Thanks a lot sir for suggesting this book.
It was the best experience while reading it.


message 12: by Maru (new) - added it

Maru Kun Hi - I guess you will be pleased to see this on the Financial Times/McKinsey long list for their Business Book of the Year award.


message 13: by Rudolph (new) - added it

Rudolph Lmao, this is like meeting a celebrity


Anand Patel This is a must-read book for today's situation. As fake news are on all-time high, this book will put some sense in the mind. This book should be in your library along with other 4 books.
http://www.markmyadventure.com/book/5...


Marie Therese B Hansen Everyone must read this book! Life changing on how we look, and should look, at the world


message 16: by Rashid (new)

Rashid Thanks bill for the a detailed review- the book in now on my reading list 👍🏻


message 17: by Mary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mary Great analysis and very helpful in increasing understanding of global changes.


message 18: by Judd (new)

Judd Maltin Richest guy in the world says the poor ain't doing so bad... While inequality is actually at an all time high. I'm not surprised he doesn't recommend Picketty's "Capital", it would deflate his savior status and show who he is and the environmental and human destruction these rapacious "captains of industry" cause.


message 19: by Sajad (new) - added it

Sajad Soultani His presentations on TED and Youtube Are marvellous


message 20: by Rira (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rira I've just learned that the writer has passed away. It's really his last battle, then. But I'm grateful of his wonderful work. This is a good book, an eye opener that's pleasing to read. Thank you Hans for living your life to the fullest fighting the ignorance. Also, thank you Bill, for the review.


message 21: by Jon (new)

Jon Richardson Thanks for the helpful review, but is a four-category classification of country income groups a big deal? World Bank have used a fourfold framework for years - low income/ lower-middle/ upper-middle/high.


message 22: by Risto (new) - added it

Risto Thanks Bill, I must follow your reviews in the future.


message 23: by Sanda (new) - added it

Sanda Jon wrote: "Thanks for the helpful review, but is a four-category classification of country income groups a big deal? World Bank have used a fourfold framework for years - low income/ lower-middle/ upper-middl..."

Yes , they did, and Rosling underlined this fact.
What makes the book interesting are the links to the other facts that help you understand the way and directions the world evolves to.


Kupono Fey I saw your quote on how the world would be a better place if everyone read this book and I am very happy I bought it! It did not disappoint, it is one of my favorite books now and I recommend it to everyone. A lot to learn from this book, thanks!


message 25: by Nora (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nora Ray Fascinating book. I can see how the tools he provides would make major improvements to the macro level decision making process. Each level 4 country though will still have some level 3s, 2s, and even 1s scattered amongst it's 4s.


Karen Park Thanks for your detailed review. This book really helps me a lot in getting access to the "fact". And this can be a really useful skill when using the Internet.


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message 28: by Marcy (new)

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