I just finished listening to Hans Rosling’s posthumously published book Factfulness, in which he and his collaborators, including his children Ola and Anna, advocate convincingly for a cool-headed fact-based world view, but one that’s infused with an empathy for humanity and our planet that spurs us to action, instead of just thinking and talking about the issues we face.

This book is one of the most inspiring and humbling things I’ve ever taken in, and the fact that it was completed between Hans’s diagnosis of terminal cancer and his passing on February 7th, 2017 added a sense of poignancy for me. I had the chance to meet Hans and his wife Agneta a couple years ago when he presented a keynote at the Tableau Conference in 2016. I was thrilled to be assigned the task of buying the toilet paper for his world population presentation at the local drug store downtown. Yep, my data claim-to-fame:

What’s this book about?

In this book, the Roslings outline 10 defects in the way we humans think and see the world, and they prescribe 10 corresponding rules of thumb that we can use to keep them at bay:


Why did I like this book so much?

These 10 dramatic instincts help explain a lot the reasons behind the social issues we observe around us and fall prey to ourselves – from xenophobia to pessimism about the way things are compared to the past to misconceptions about present and future dangers based on what we consume in the news. You walk away with a deeper appreciation for why and how we fall into these pitfalls time and time again, and how to prevent doing so in the future.

I also loved hearing the stories of his work as a young doctor studying konzo in parts of rural Africa, and of what life was like in Sweden when he grew up there as a child in the 1950s and 60s – not very different from places today that many educated people in the US and Europe would think of as “emerging nations”. Those personal anecdotes helped me as the reader understand the reasons behind his unique and beautiful way of seeing the world. His courage in sharing some of his most disastrous decisions as well as his humility in learning from those mistakes and passing along his insights to us are an amazing testament to his life.

What’s especially awesome about what they’ve put together is that the Gapminder Foundation, which continues his mission forward, has made Factfulness posters and slides freely available so we can both remind ourselves and teach others about how to evolve the way we think and how we act.

Here are a couple quotes that hit me so hard as I was listening to the audiobook that I pressed paused and immediately shared them on Twitter:

To demonstrate the 10th and final dramatic instinct, the Urgency Instinct, I’ll encourage all of my readers – whether you’re “into data” or not – to get this book and read or listen to it right now, BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE! 😉

Actually, we’ll all be better off if more of us do just that.