Book Review by Oliver Thring in the SUNDAY TIMES, 29 April 2018:
Hans Rosling, who died last year, was a Swedish statistician, doctor and public-health professor who latterly befriended Bill Gates. The Microsoft founder has written an effusive plaudit for Rosling’s last and posthumously published book, which was completed by his son and daughter-in-law and is zooming up bestseller lists worldwide.
Like Gates, Rosling’s fans often discovered him through his superb Ted talks. In these, he showed that, despite the media’s endless torrent of depressing stories, on almost every important measure the world is getting better, not worse. The cognitive scientist Steven Pinker made similar points at much greater length in Enlightenment Now, and in 2011’s The Better Angels of Our Nature.
Child mortality rates, oil spills, HIV infections, deaths in war or from natural disasters are plummeting. Cereal yields have almost trebled since the 1960s. A majority of humanity (56%) now lives in democracies, compared with just 1% a century ago. About 88% of us enjoy access to clean water; as recently as 1980 it was 58%.
With warmth and charm, Rosling shows how even the world’s best-educated people, including Nobel laureates, lose out to chimpanzees when answering questions such as: “What is the life expectancy of the world today? 50, 60 or 70 years?” (The correct answer is 70.) Terrible things are still happening, of course, and fully 1bn people still live on around $1 a day. But what Rosling calls “the secret silent miracle of human progress” is nonetheless a reality, lastingly celebrated in his triumphant final book.