Welcome to the WIRED Book Club, a series where we invite you to read along with us as we delve into recent titles that give an insight into the worlds of technology, science and business.
Here’s the deal: each month we select a different non-fiction book that piques our interest, and that we think our readers will enjoy too. We’ll give you roughly a month to read the book, then we’ll discuss our thoughts on the WIRED UK Podcast and YouTube channel. At the same time, we’ll announce the next book.
This month’s book is Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling (with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund). Published posthumously, the book documents Rosling’s philosophy of “factfulness”, a worldview that is based solidly on facts rather than instincts or estimates. Recommended by Barack Obama and Bill Gates, it explains how our understanding of reality is often skewed by bias or misinformation, and offers a more optimistic vision of human progress than many of us may generally be inclined to have.
We’ll discuss Factfulness, and announce our next book club title, on the podcast on September 27. We’d also love to hear your thoughts on the book – send your reviews, comments and questions to [email protected] for inclusion in our discussion.
To get you started, here’s a brief excerpt from Factfulness.
Join the WIRED Book Club
- Pick up a copy of Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
- In paperback, in hardback, on Audible or hunt it down at your local library. Once you’ve read it, let us know what you think. Email [email protected] with your reviews, comments and questions.
Think about the world. War, violence, natural disasters, man-made disasters, corruption. Things are bad, and it feels like they are getting worse, right? The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer; and the number of poor just keeps increasing; and we will soon run out of resources unless we do something drastic. At least that’s the picture that most Westerners see in the media and carry around in their heads. I call it the overdramatic worldview.
It’s stressful and misleading. In fact, the vast majority of the world’s population lives somewhere in the middle of the income scale. Perhaps they are not what we think of as middle class, but they are not living in extreme poverty. Their girls go to school, their children get vaccinated, they live in two-child families, and they want to go abroad on holiday, not as refugees. Step-by-step, year-by-year, the world is improving. Not on every single measure every single year, but as a rule. Though the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress. This is the fact-based worldview.
It is the overdramatic worldview that draws people to the most dramatic and negative answers to my fact questions. People constantly and intuitively refer to their worldview when thinking, guessing, or learning about the world. So if your worldview is wrong, then you will systematically make wrong guesses. But this overdramatic worldview is not caused simply by out-of-date knowledge, as I once thought.
Even people with access to the latest information get the world wrong. And I am convinced it is not the fault of an evil-minded media, propaganda, fake news, or wrong facts. My experience, over decades of lecturing, and testing, and listening to the ways people misinterpret the facts even when they are right in front of them, finally brought me to see that the overdramatic worldview is so difficult to shift because it comes from the very way our brains work.
The human brain is a product of millions of years of evolution, and we are hard-wired with instincts that helped our ancestors to survive in small groups of hunters and gatherers. Our brains often jump to swift conclusions without much thinking, which used to help us to avoid immediate dangers. We are interested in gossip and dramatic stories, which used to be the only source of news and useful information.
We crave sugar and fat, which used to be life-saving sources of energy when food was scarce. We have many instincts that used to be useful thousands of years ago, but we live in a very different world now. Our cravings for sugar and fat make obesity one of the largest health problems in the world today. We have to teach our children, and ourselves, to stay away from sweets and chips. In the same way, our quick-thinking brains and cravings for drama — our dramatic instincts — are causing misconceptions and an overdramatic worldview.
If you’re looking for more books to add to your reading list, check out our guide to the best sci-fi books and the best fantasy books
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