Elizabeth: Book Squee – Factfulness

The book I’m talking about today, Factfulness by Hans Rosling, may be a bit of a departure from the norm around here – it’s non-fiction for one thing – but it very much relates to the concepts of narrative and storytelling.

If you’re a fan of TED talks, you may already be familiar with Hans Rosling and his storytelling with numbers.  Last I checked, his talks have been viewed more than 35 million times after all.

The tagline for the book is:

Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think.

Who doesn’t want to be wrong about the world and read some proof about how it is better than we think?

The book’s Amazon page has some great shout-outs, including the one below:

Hans Rosling tells the story of ‘the secret silent miracle of human progress’ as only he can.” ―Melinda Gates

Factfulness first came to my attention at work, where we’re all about storytelling and “shaping the narrative.”  My boss passed it on to a co-worker who then passed it to me assuming that, since I’m the office data-guru (amoung other things), it would be right up my alley.    I didn’t have time to read it right then, but I did put the eBook version in my library queue for reading at a later date.  That date came up on a long flight to a conference a few weeks ago and by the end of that 4+ hour flight, I was more than half-way through the book and hooked, not to mention slightly more well-informed.

The book uses storytelling and context and facts to provide a lens for looking at the world and making informed decisions.  That probably sounds pretty dry, but it really isn’t.   Rosling’s style is friendly and engaging, and you can really sense his passion for his subject.

Rosling was a doctor and public educator and the book has lots of interesting numbers and charts relating to health and poverty and whatnot.  It starts of with a set of 13 multiple-choice questions relating to income, poverty, wealth, etc., that “everyone knows.”

Spoiler alert:  I got almost none of them correct.

Apparently, chimpanzees who randomly answered the same questions consistently did better than most humans.

Well that’s embarrassing.

What it’s not, however, is completely surprising.  All of the information we are exposed to – whether it’s from the news media, public officials, schools, or some random guy next door – is biased, slanted, interpreted, or otherwise filtered by the presenter, whether intentionally or not.  Information can also be selectively presented to tell a particular story.  If you’ve been followins US politics recently, you’ll find endless examples of narratives being created using select bits and pieces of information.

Storytelling is definitely not just something for fiction writers.  We’re surrounded by story, whether we are always aware of it or not.  The story this book tells with its charts and facts may not have the traditional happily-ever-after ending we’re fond of here, but it confirms the fact that a happy ending is indeed possible.

If you’re looking to shake up your TBR pile, I suggest giving Factfulness or one of Rosling’s TED talk’s a try.

So, have you read (or watched) anything out of the ordinary lately that you’d recommend?  I have another long flight coming up soon.

3 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Book Squee – Factfulness

  1. Interesting! I was reading on Twitter and Argh about a tech writer who complained that Game of Thrones strayed from its sociological roots to a psychological way of storytelling; one of the throwaways in the original article was about how the writer needed to keep in society in mind when shaping the narrative about the big tech giants s/he writes about (non-fictionally).

    This sounds like my kind of book.

    BTW, if you need a short book, I’m recommending *Ice Cream Lover* to everyone. It’s a great summer read, and as a writer, I think you’ll enjoy analyzing how she handles sex scenes, multi-culturalism and sensory input (ICE CREAM!!!). If your destination is the right kind of destination, it may also prime your pump to seek out some unusual ice cream flavors, too!

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