Book: Factfulness by Hans Rosling

00112122-400x400Oh my, how I do love Hans Rosling! His “magic washing machine” TED talk may be my favorite of all time.

„Factfulness” is a culmination of his life work. He literally wrote the book on his deathbed. It provides a framework for thinking about wealth distribution around the world, thinking about help and differentiating fact from fiction.

His big beef was with the supposed gap between „developed” and „developing” world, which existed 50 years ago, but not any more. They key message of the book is that most people live in the middle and everywhere around the world, life is getting better.


Over the past twenty years, the proportion of the global population living in extreme poverty has halved.

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  • One billion people live on level 1. This is what we think of as extreme poverty. If you’re on level 1, you survive on less than $2 a day and get around by walking barefoot. Your food is cooked over an open fire, and you spend most of your day traveling to fetch water. At night, you and your children sleep on a dirt floor.
  • Three billion people live on level 2, between $2 and $8 a day. Level 2 means that you can buy shoes and maybe a bike, so it doesn’t take so long to get water. Your kids go to school instead of working all day. Dinner is made over a gas stove, and your family sleeps on mattresses instead of the floor.
  • Two billion people live on level 3, between $8 and $32 a day. You have running water and a fridge in your home. You can also afford a motorbike to make getting around easier. Some of your kids start (and even finish) high school.
  • One billion people live on level 4. If you spend more than $32 a day, you’re on level 4. You have at least a high school education and can probably afford to buy a car and take a vacation once in a while.


Bill Gates – long time friend of Rosling’s has covered the book as well.


One thing you may want to check out is the „Dollar Street” – a project showing how people live at different income levels around the world. It is a visual way to convey learnings from Factfulness and I highly recommend it.

And  – last but not least – the magical washing machine 🙂



My most important takeaways:

  • There is no developing vs developed any more. Most people live in the middle
  • Population growth is slowing down and is expected to level at about 11 billion or so. We know, because we that birthrates have dropped around the world thanks to birth control, education and less poverty. Malthusian crisis will not come.
  • Nothing is as dramatic as it sounds


My Kindle Highlights


  • Over the past twenty years, the proportion of the global population living in extreme poverty has halved.
  • Every group of people I ask thinks the world is more frightening, more violent, and more hopeless—in short, more dramatic—than it really is.
  • Only actively wrong “knowledge” can make us score so badly.
  • I call it the overdramatic worldview. It’s stressful and misleading.
  • But we need to learn to control our drama intake.
  • the world is not as dramatic as it seems.
  • The world has completely changed. Today, families are small and child deaths are rare in the vast majority of countries, including the largest: China and India.
  • A: Low-income countries
  • Afterward, people ask me, “So what should we call them instead?” But listen carefully. It’s the same misconception: we and them. What should “we” call “them” instead? What we should do is stop dividing countries into two groups. It doesn’t make sense anymore.
  • Only, it’s a very strange computer game, because Level 1 is the hardest. Let’s play.
  • People on Level 4 must struggle hard not to misunderstand the reality of the other 6 billion people in the world. (Roughly 1 billion people live like this today.)
  • Just 200 years ago, 85 percent of the world population was still on Level 1, in extreme poverty. Today the vast majority of people are spread out in the middle, across Levels 2 and 3, with the same range of standards of living as people had in Western Europe and North America in the 1950s. And this has been the case for many years. The Gap Instinct The gap instinct is very strong. The first time I lectured to the staff of the World Bank was in 1999. I told
  • Just 200 years ago, 85 percent of the world population was still on Level 1, in extreme poverty.
  • Today the vast majority of people are spread out in the middle, across Levels 2 and 3, with the same range of standards of living as people had in Western Europe and North America in the 1950s.
  • It took the World Bank 17 years and 14 more of my lectures before it finally announced publicly that it was dropping the terms “developing” and “developed” and would from now on divide the world into four income groups.
  • In reality, even in one of the world’s most unequal countries, there is no gap. Most people are in the middle.
  • To control the gap instinct, look for the majority.
  • Beware comparisons of averages. If you could check the spreads you would probably find they overlap. There is probably no gap at all.
  • Instead, we are gloomy. On our Level 4
  • gloomy. On our Level 4 TVs, we still see people in extreme poverty and it seems that nothing has changed.
  • I’m a very serious “possibilist.” That’s something I made up. It means someone who neither hopes without reason, nor fears without reason, someone who constantly resists the overdramatic worldview.
  • There was a balance. It wasn’t because humans lived in balance with nature. Humans died in balance with nature. It was utterly brutal and tragic.
  • Once parents see children survive, once the children are no longer needed for child labor, and once the women are educated and have information about and access to contraceptives, across cultures and religions both the men and the women instead start dreaming of having fewer, well-educated children.
  • We should do everything we can to reduce child mortality, not only as an act of humanity for living suffering children but to benefit the whole world now and in the future.
  • Just as we will buy ourselves a fridge and a cell phone as soon as we can afford them, countries will invest in primary education and vaccination as soon as they can afford them.
  • When the journalist says with a sad face, “in times like these,” will you smile and think that she is referring to the first time in history when disaster victims get immediate global attention and foreigners send their best helicopters? Will you feel fact-based hope that humanity will be able to prevent even more horrific deaths in the future? I don’t think so. Not if you function like me. Because when that camera pans to bodies of dead children being pulled out of the debris, my intellectual capacity is blocked by fear and sorrow. At that moment, no line chart in the world can influence my feelings, no facts can comfort me. Claiming in that moment that things are getting better would be to trivialize the immense suffering of those victims and their families. It would
  • When the journalist says with a sad face, “in times like these,” will you smile and think that she is referring to the first time in history when disaster victims get immediate global attention and foreigners send their best helicopters?
  • In 1944 they all met in Chicago to agree on common rules and signed a contract with a very important Annex 13: a common form for incident reports, which they agreed to share, so they could all learn from each other’s mistakes.
  • DDT’s creator won a Nobel Prize.
  • Second, ask yourself, “What kind of evidence would convince me to change my mind?” If the answer is “no evidence could ever change my mind about vaccination,” then you are putting yourself outside evidence-based rationality,
  • Chemophobia also means that every six months there is a “new scientific finding” about a synthetic chemical found in regular food in very low quantities that, if you ate a cargo ship or two of it every day for three years, could kill you.
  • In fact, it is hard to think of a cause of death that kills fewer people in countries on Level 4 than terrorism.
  • Fear can be useful, but only if it is directed at the right things.
  • I would like my fear to be focused on the mega dangers of today, and not the dangers from our evolutionary past.
  • Risk = danger × exposure. The risk something poses to you depends not on how scared it makes you feel, but on a combination of two things. How dangerous is it? And how much are you exposed to it?
  • “In the deepest poverty you should never do anything perfectly. If you do you are stealing resources from where they can be better used.”
  • Never, ever leave a number all by itself. Never believe that one number on its own can be meaningful. If you are offered one number, always ask for at least one more. Something to compare it with.
  • People in North America and Europe need to understand that most of the world population lives in Asia.
  • had for some time been appalled by the systematic blaming of climate change on China and India based on total emissions per nation.
  • It’s a bit strange, isn’t it? Such terrifying things rarely happen “here,” in this safe place where we live. But out there, they seem to happen every day.
  • Strategic business planners need a fact-based worldview to find their future customers.
  • Flaking walls keep away the richer patients and their time-consuming demands for costly treatments,
  • “Hmmm. So your country has become so safe that when you go abroad the world is dangerous for you.”
  • If you are happy to conclude that all chemicals are unsafe on the basis of one unsafe chemical, would you be prepared to conclude that all chemicals are safe on the basis of one safe chemical?
  • Many of my fellow Europeans have a snobbish self-regard built on an illusion of a European culture that is superior, not only to African and Asian cultures, but also to American consumer culture.
  • Today, Muslim women have on average 3.1 children. Christian women have 2.7. There is no major difference between the birth rates of the great world religions.
  • student in the 1960s. Abortion in Sweden was still, except on very limited grounds, illegal. At the university, we ran a secret fund to pay for women to travel abroad to get safe abortions. Jaws drop even further when I tell the students where these young pregnant students traveled to: Poland. Catholic Poland. Five years later, Poland banned abortion and Sweden legalized it. The flow of young women started to go the other way.
  • wrong about the world so many times. Sometimes, coming up against reality is what helps me see my mistakes, but often it is talking to, and trying to understand, someone with different ideas. If this means you don’t have time to form so many opinions, so what? Wouldn’t you rather have few opinions that are right than many that are wrong?
  • Great knowledge can interfere with an expert’s ability to see what actually works.
  • The world cannot be understood without numbers. But the world cannot be understood with numbers alone.
  • Neither the public sector nor the private sector is always the answer. No single measure of a good society can drive every other aspect of its development. It’s not either/or. It’s both and it’s case-by-case.
  • We like to believe that things happen because someone wanted them to, that individuals have power and agency: otherwise, the world feels unpredictable, confusing, and frightening
  • You should not expect the media to provide you with a fact-based worldview any more than you would think it reasonable to use a set of holiday snaps of Berlin as your GPS system to help you navigate around the city.
  • Two billion people today have enough money to use a washing machine and enough time for mothers to read books—because it is almost always the mothers who do the laundry
  • Why did I have to say to the mayor, “You must do something”?
  • When we are afraid and under time pressure and thinking of worst-case scenarios, we tend to make really stupid decisions. Our ability to think analytically can be overwhelmed by an urge to make quick decisions and take immediate action.
  • Learn to Control the Urgency Instinct. Special Offer! Today Only!
  • We had hundreds of health-care workers from across the world flying in to take action, and software developers constantly coming up with new, pointless Ebola apps (apps were their hammers and they were desperate for Ebola to be a nail).
  • When a problem seems urgent the first thing to do is not to cry wolf, but to organize the data.
  • The urgent “now or never” feelings it creates lead to stress or apathy: “We must do something drastic. Let’s not analyze. Let’s do something.” Or, “It’s all hopeless. There’s nothing we can do. Time to give up.”
  • It’s a huge diplomatic challenge to prevent the proud and nostalgic nations with a violent track record from attacking others now that they are losing their grip on the world market.
  • The richest countries emit by far the most CO2 and must start improving first before wasting time pressuring others.
  • The other thought was something that a wise governor of Tanzania had told me: “When someone threatens you with a machete, never turn your back. Stand still. Look him straight in the eye and ask him what the problem is.”
  • Those people are not stupid, so why are they using that solution?”
  • But the world will keep changing, and the problem of ignorant grown-ups will not be solved by teaching the next generation.
  • If you are a teacher, send your class “traveling” on
  • When I present to European corporations, I always tell them to tune down their European branding (“remove the Alps from your logo”)
  • We concluded with Frank Sinatra’s anthem “My Way.”




  1. 🙌 Loved this one as well! It’s the best book I’ve read so far this year.

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