Four book summaries

Four book summaries

Read a series of short book summaries to practise and improve your reading skills.

Do the preparation task first. Then read the text and do the exercises.

Preparation

Reading text

Four positive books about the world

Factfulness – Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund

In Factfulness, Professor Hans Rosling, along with two collaborators, asks simple questions about the world. Questions like 'How many girls finish school?' and 'What percentage of the world's population is poor?' It turns out the majority of us get the answers to these questions completely wrong. Why does this happen? Factfulness sets out to explain why, showing that there are several instincts humans have that distort our perspective.

For example, most people divide the world into US and THEM. In addition, we often believe that things are getting worse. And we are consuming large amounts of media that use a sales model based on making us afraid.

But according to the authors, the world isn't as bad as we think. Yes, there are real concerns. But we should adopt a mindset of factfulness – only carrying opinions that are supported by strong facts. This book is not concerned with the underlying reasons for poverty or progress, or what should be done about these issues. It focuses on our instinctive biases, offering practical advice to help us see the good as well as the bad in the world.

 

Enlightenment Now – Steven Pinker

Are things getting worse every day? Is progress an impossible goal? In Enlightenment Now, Steven Pinker looks at the big picture of human progress and finds good news. We are living longer, healthier, freer and happier lives.

Pinker asks us to stop paying so much attention to negative headlines and news that declares the end of the world. Instead, he shows us some carefully selected data. In 75 surprising graphs, we see that safety, peace, knowledge and health are getting better all over the world. When the evidence does not support his argument, however, he dismisses it. Economic inequality, he claims, is not really a problem, because it is not actually that important for human well-being. One cannot help wondering how many people actually living in poverty would agree.

The real problem, Pinker argues, is that the Enlightenment values of reason and science are under attack. When commentators and demagogues appeal to people's tribalism, fatalism and distrust, then we are in danger of causing irreparable damage to important institutions like democracy and world co-operation.  

 

The Rational Optimist – Matt Ridley

For more than two hundred years the pessimists have been winning the public debate. They tell us that things are getting worse. But in fact, life is getting better. Income, food availability and lifespan are rising; disease, violence and child mortality are falling. These trends are happening all around the world. Africa is slowly coming out of poverty, just as Asia did before. The internet, mobile phones and worldwide trade are making the lives of millions of people much better.

Best-selling author Matt Ridley doesn't only explain how things are getting better; he gives us reasons why as well. He shows us how human culture evolves in a positive direction thanks to the exchange of ideas and specialisation. This bold book looks at the entirety of human history – from the Stone Age to the 21st century – and changes the notion that it's all going downhill. The glass really is half-full.

 

The Great Surge – Steven Radelet

The majority of people believe that developing countries are in a terrible situation: suffering from incredible poverty, governed by dictators and with little hope for any meaningful change. But, surprisingly, this is far from the truth. The reality is that a great transformation is occurring. Over the past 20 years, more than 700 million people have increased their income and come out of poverty. Additionally, six million fewer children die every year from disease, millions more girls are in school and millions of people have access to clean water.

This is happening across developing countries around the world. The end of the Cold War, the development of new technologies and brave new leadership have helped to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people in poor countries.

The Great Surge describes how all of this is happening and, more importantly, it shows us how we can accelerate the process.

Discussion

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Submitted by jmajo on Thu, 30/11/2023 - 14:55

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Yes, I would like to read the book “The rational optimist” by Matt Ridley because it sounds more Interesting than the others due to the historical descriptions of his arguments and the coverage of the entirety of human history.

Thanks for the lesson.
Great site!

Submitted by Vitaliy128 on Tue, 31/10/2023 - 10:15

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I don't even know if I would like to read any of these books because it's not my cup of tea. However, I strongly agree that the quality of life has become a lot better than it was before. And I think that it's not necessary to provide my speech with any examples as a reason that it's quite obvious.

Submitted by betelf on Wed, 25/10/2023 - 17:56

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I'd like to read 'Enlightenment Now,' but I'm also skeptical about all of these books. The idea of getting manipulated seems more plausible, and I agree with the book that science is really important and cannot be changed.

Submitted by chpsueey on Thu, 05/10/2023 - 15:18

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This reading task really evoked some long forgotten positive emotions in me. I indeed feel pessimistic and dreadful when I open my smartphone and read the latest headlines in my newsapp – and that almost every morning. And with time you even become numb and stop questioning yourself, so that you really start to believe that every politician is corrupt and that there are no good people in positions of power. But you should always try to defend your values and go out there and show what you think is right and wrong. It's not a good idea to wait for people to stand up. Because maybe there are people who wait for you to come up.

Submitted by İhsan Furkan on Thu, 16/03/2023 - 08:33

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I would like to read "Enlightenment Now" because the ideas of the book are very impressive and from time to time I am thinking some of these ideas like if one day people don't listen what science says anymore, what would be happen? The author presents his ideas with graphs and datas and I like to talk with the solid realities.

Submitted by Cemill on Thu, 16/03/2023 - 07:20

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Indeed, with the advancement of technology, a great transformation is taking place. People are getting rid of poverty while increasing their income more easily. Diseases can be prevented faster. For example, if COVID 19 had appeared in earlier centuries, more people would probably have died. Education is made more effective thanks to the internet and computers. Therefore, human beings live in a better world today compared to yesterday.

Submitted by bambamchabo26 on Mon, 09/01/2023 - 15:29

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If we compare today and old times as life quality, it's a given to say that today is best of all times in history. To give an example, slavery abolished already, people have better income than before,diseases are seen rarely. We have both a lot of evidences and concrete data for it.

Submitted by meknini on Sat, 16/07/2022 - 01:52

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Factfulness by the Roslings is one book that I am highly likely to get as it has piqued my attention as I believe many of what the professor has written actually hit me hard on the head. By learning from this esteemed professor I think many of my already pre-set belief could slowly transform hopefully turning most if not all the ideas and thoughts long embedded into softer and gentler realizations that ultimately make me a much more open person.

Submitted by alexiamontes2004 on Fri, 01/07/2022 - 02:51

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Would you like to read any of these books?

If the book of The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley because it speaks to us as the pessimism of people over time has been deceiving us because in reality the world is improving little by little and I would like to be able to see the world in a different way more optimistic as the book mentions.

Submitted by delgado1984 on Thu, 16/06/2022 - 23:43

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I disagree with these books. The reality should be analysed with facts and not be analysed with states of mind. When I hear someone saying that this is the truth and that is fake, that is the exact moment I start to ask questions and have doubts. Who knows the truth? You don't, nor I. I am aware that the way to see reality in a good way is an unconscious human behaviour to survive and refuse. Furthermore, the gap between poor and rich is going to be present in our future, it is a core factor of capitalism and capitalism rules the world. We have to rebuild our system because what we call society now is an unshaped mess.