My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Hans Rosling wrote this book with his son and daughter-in-law. It was his last book. Because he knew he was dying while writing this book he wrote:
This book is my very last battle in my lifelong mission to fight devastating global ignorance. It is my last attempt to make an impact on the world: to change people’s ways of thinking, calm their irrational fears, and redirect their energies into constructive activities.
His last breaths and words gave me new hope. As a librarian and self described rational thinker, facts and data are a big part of my stock and trade. But since 2001 and especially the past few years, it’s seemed like facts never matter any more. That people across the political spectrum have fixed views incapable of change or compromise. I found myself questioning my life’s work in a post factual world.
The Roslings’ books has given me something to hold onto. Not so much as the facts themselves – though there are plenty in this book. What I feel like I’ve gotten is a more systematic way to talk about facts, particularly in relation to global development but also in crime, terrorism and other areas.
Hans Rosling spent a good chunk of his life asking audiences and commissioning polls that asked a small set of multiple choice questions. He found that audiences across the world answered worse than random chance and always skewed negative. In thinking about why that might be, Dr. Rosling documented ten types of bias errors. He devotes a chapter to each one, closing each chapter with tips on addressing this bias in ourselves and others.
In the first chapter, “The Gap Instinct” he also introduces what I believe is a more useful way of talking about income groups. Rather than the usual “The healthy and rich West and everyone else”, he and his family suggest four groups:
Level 1 ($1/day) – Has to walk everywhere. Hauls water by hand, No food security. No electricity.
Level 2 ($4/day) Has a bicycle, hauls water more quickly, Food is stable but monotonous . Erratic electricty
Level 3 ($16/day) – Has a motorbike, indoor plumbing, mostly reliable electricity, refrigeration helps with more varied diet.
Level 4 ($64/day and above) – Drives a car and other things in life we’d regard as “Western” here in the United States.
According to global income statistics, most people in the world are living in levels 2 and 3. This leads to different approaches and different ways of looking at other countries. Also, grouping people by income lets Dr. Rosling point out that in the next day or so, most people living at level 4 (modern consumers?) will reside outside the traditional “West plus Japan.”
But this isn’t a dry book of data and human mental mistakes. There are many anecdotes to illustrate this data, many of them drawn from Dr. Rosling’s personal life. He comes across as earnest, warm, willing to admit to his own mistake and more interested in fixes than blame.
The book is well researched and all conclusions backed with data, usually from international statistical agencies. The surviving authors accept corrections through the books website at gapminder.org.
I had borrowed this book from my local library. Then I was impressed enough to buy my own copy. I hope you’ll have a look.