One book to read this holiday

Roy Blatchford writes about ‘Factfulness’ and thinking positively about our world

If one of the following happens to you this summer holiday:

  • You end up waiting in a Cornish A & E
  • You are stuck in the queue for the Channel Tunnel
  • Your flight out of LA is delayed
  • Your teenage children have gone to the camp-site BBQ leaving you in peace…

…then have at hand ‘Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think’.

One critic observed of this new book: read it and you have a chance of being one of the few intelligent people who isn’t systematically wrong about global trends. Certainly its facts and figures might come in handy for start-of-term staff meetings and assemblies.

Author (and TED-talker) Hans Rosling founded the Gapminder Foundation in 2005, with a mission to fight what he calls ‘devastating ignorance’ with a fact-based world-view. During the writing of this book, Hans was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died in February 2017. His son Ola and daughter-in-law Anna fortunately brought it to publication.

Rosling presents data as therapy, data as a source of understanding a world which is not as dramatic as it seems, and certainly not as fraught as contemporary media chooses to present. He asserts that factfulness, like a healthy diet and regular exercise, can and should become part of your daily life. ‘You will make better decisions, stay alert to real dangers and possibilities, and avoid being stressed about the wrong things’.

Perfect solace for a summer read.

Laced with fascinating graphs in all manner of designs, the author’s accessible approach is to study ten ‘instincts’ in turn, challenging the reader’s pre-conceptions about the globe, its environment, people and politics. The ten instincts are worth listing to give a flavour of the intriguing range of his socio-political-economic analysis:

  • the gap instinct
  • the negativity instinct
  • the straight line instinct
  • the fear instinct
  • the size instinct
  • the generalisation instinct
  • the destiny instinct
  • the single perspective instinct
  • the blame instinct
  • the urgency instinct.

To take one of these chapters ‘The Urgency Instinct’ by way of example, Rosling begins with a reflection on a personal incident in Mozambique. Serving as a medical doctor, in the rush to do something – anything – he did something terrible.

In the light of that experience he argues that when people now tell him that he must act immediately, it makes him hesitate. He widens this reaction to comment on Al Gore’s important awareness raising around climate change. And then extends his critique to those doom merchants who present sketchy worst-case scenarios based on dodgy data.

In no way does the author deny the many pressing global risks we need to address. Quite the reverse: he ably summarises them, from global pandemic to extreme poverty. But he does insist that we all (especially political leaders) take a breath, harness reliable data, eschew fortune tellers, and avoid drastic action in favour of measured steps towards possible solutions.

Each chapter follows a similar format of personal anecdote broadening to a mix of local, regional, national and international issues. There is quirky wit, memorable off-beat phrasing and some natty illustrations. Intermittently, the reader is invited to respond to mini-questionnaires which have been at the centre of the author’s work for decades working with governments and NGOs.

‘Factfulness’ is a generous antidote to some of the pervasive negativity about our planet to be found in much social media content. We know data and statistics can be shaped to tell almost any tale. Yet there is enough optimism, intelligent analysis and common sense advice to make it a book to recommend to friends and colleagues for future vacations.

Read it this holiday and you’ll be first with the news.

 

Roy Blatchford CBE is founder of www.blinks.education. His latest book ‘Success Is A Journey’ is published by John Catt Educational.

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