Factfulness Book Review

Factfulness is an inspiring read, offering the viewpoint that the world is getting better we’re just not hearing about it. The media tends to focus on negative and high drama events that bring in dollars. The progress of the world doesn’t get reported on nearly enough. For us in the developed West, it is hard to imagine what the year 2100 will look like but Factfulness paints a picture where more consumers will be outside of the West. The hub of capitalism is moving as the world continues to level up. One of the most impactful parts for me was the section on birth rate, how this doesn’t have to be a straight line and the reasons it will slow down. I read this book in late 2019 and it closes with five crises that will cause the most suffering in the world. These are not the murders and robberies that we hear on the news. Rosling has a global pandemic as the most likely crisis to happen, a word of warning that most of us in 2020 heard too late.

As an optimist, Factfulness was a refreshing if not validating read. I would definitely recommend it.


Chaper 1

We have an outdated view of the world. Developed vs undeveloped. Us vs them. In fact, 85% of the world is now developed. There is no gap between the West and the rest.

4 Income Levels - Everyone wants to move up but level one is the hardest:

  • Level 1: dollar per day, fetch water from a hole in the ground
  • Level 2: 4 dollars per day
  • Level 3: 3 billion people today are on this level. Working multiple jobs usually, 7 days a week. $16 a day. No more fetching water
  • Level 4: 2 billion people live like this > $32 a day. 6 billion people are in the other levels

It takes several generations for a family to move income levels

Gap Instinct: us vs them mentality. News and media propagate it. Thinking about extremes is easy

The 4 levels are most important distinction in book.

Chapter 2: Negativity Instinct

We tend to notice and focus on the bad. Over last 20 years proportion of people living under extreme poverty has almost halved.

Average world wide life expectancy is 70.

Basic modernizations have reached most people.

Most people think crime is getting worse due to the news. The media relies on drama to make money. When you hear about something bad in the news ask yourself if you would have heard about equally positive story When things are getting better we often don’t hear about them.

Chapter 3: Straight Line Instinct

The # of children born isn’t a straight line. It’s like your growth chart, really fast at the beginning but eventually stops. The UN is already showing signs of it slowing down. When people get out of poverty they have less kids. Extreme poverty is going down and sex education is spreading. People in extreme poverty need multiple kids in case some die and for labor. Getting people out of extreme poverty and contraceptives are the most important and that is happening.

Straight lines are less common than we think. Human population is an S curve. Recognize the assumption that a line must continue straight.

Chapter 4: Fear Instinct

Critical thinking is almost impossible when we are scared. Violence has been trending down for a long time. Terrorism accounted for 0.05% of all deaths. Terrorism deaths have been decreasing this century since 2001. People are almost as scared today as the week after 9/11.

Suppress your fear instinct and measure the actual death toll. The fear instinct makes us focus on low percentage things that we fear the most.

  • Plane crashs: 0.0001%
  • Murders: 0.7%
  • Nuclear leaks: 0%
  • Millions are dying from diarrhea

Frightening things do not equal the most risky

Chapter 5: Size Instinct

We tend to get things out of proportion. The media is great at taking a single number and blowing it out of proportion

Avoid lonely numbers, never leave a number all by itself

4.2 million dead babies, this number has never been lower and is decreasing. Swine flu 8000 news articles per death (31 deaths)

Population pin code: 1114

America, Europe, Africa, Asia

2100 pin code will be 1145

By 2040 60% of level 4 consumers will live outside the West

In terms of economic muscle, we are becoming the 20% not the 80%.

To make a large number more meaningful divide it by a number. Rates are more meaningful Carbon emissions per nation is pointless with the differences in population. Use rates.

Compare and Divide

Chapter 6: Generalization Instinct

Everyone generalizes all the time. We can mistakenly group together things

The main factor that affects how people live is their income.

Question your categories. Always assume categories are misleading Beware of the majority. Majority just means more than half. Ask for percentage Look for differences within a category and similarities across categories. Country comparisons fall apart when you see differences within a country Beware of exceptional examples

Assume you are not normal

Chapter 7: The Destiny Instinct

Our brain has a hard time envisioning change.

Africa can catch up.

Asia’s destiny 100 years ago is Africa’s destiny now.

Change is happening, just slowly

Chapter 8: Single Perspective Instinct

Keep an open mind and seek opinions that differ.

Chapter 9: The Blame Instinct

It’s natural to blame when bad things happen

Finding a scapegoat is core to human nature

Look at the systems, not people when things go wrong

Chapter 10: Urgency Instinct

The urgency instinct makes us want to take immediate action because of a perceived danger. Act on the data not instinct or fear. The overdramatic world view causes us to stop thinking and make bad decisions.

5 crises the author is worried about:

  • Global pandemic - flu
  • Financial collapse
  • World War
  • Climate change
  • Extreme poverty

Each can cause mass suffering. These are the most likely to happen.

Decisions will feel urgent but they rarely are. Buy time, slow down and take small steps.

Last Chapter: Factfulness in Practice

Globalization is happening. Asia and Africa are where the biggest number of consumers are going to be, they’re going to level up. The hub of capitalism will move.