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.


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.


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Average: 4 (29 votes)

Submitted by xuhongli188 on Sat, 06/03/2021 - 08:28

I 'd like to read "The great surge"as it states that in developing countries 700 millions of people have come out of poverty and their income have increased over the past 20 years .In addition, millions of more people can have access to clean water every year and more millions of girls can go to school,etc. All the data proves that the world is transforming dramatically ,it can really cheer us up during the gloomy lockdown times. I am looking forward to getting the book delivered.

Submitted by Crix_B on Fri, 26/02/2021 - 13:31

Hey, I got an national exam coming up, Titularizare, and I got exercises like: Based on the text from SUBJECT I (Jane Austen- Pride and Prejudice), devise a pre-reading activity: - specify the objective(s) -specify the estimated time -indicate the level of your students -describe the activity And I have a problem finding something short to write there and I can't find any site creating activities like this.

Hi Crix_B,

We don't give advice for planning learning activities here, but have you seen our Teaching English site? That might give you some ideas. In the 'Teaching resources' section you can find lesson plans, and there are articles about lesson planning in the 'Professional development' section. I hope it helps :)


The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Jack Milgram on Thu, 25/02/2021 - 09:32

I've already almost fallen in love with "Factfulness." I commented before that I prefer to check all the info I get. That's why my mind depends totally on the facts I find. Oh, while we're discussing books, I know several sites where you can read them without any payment. They're more like online libraries. I mean, I checked a small amount of them, but you might be interested as well.

Submitted by Ehsan on Tue, 16/02/2021 - 14:57

yes, sure. reading one of these books can change our attitude to life and the world.
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Submitted by Amanda Santos on Fri, 15/01/2021 - 13:17

Yes I would love to read all four books. But I'm particularly curious to read "The rational optimist". I want to know the authours insights on how the human condition has been improving over the centuries.
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Submitted by Riza on Tue, 05/01/2021 - 06:02

Yes, for sure, I'd like to read all four books. Particulary, Factfulness impressed me with the plot that everyone believe is wrong, as it's based on our intituition and not data. Also the fact that our world is getting much better place to live in will have been seen through these books.

Submitted by egorovad27 on Sun, 01/11/2020 - 20:15

I'd like to read "The great surge" - Steven Radelet. As for me, the information about people who live in poverty is important. And the facts and the figures from this book are unbelievable. I didn't know about this meaningful transformation around the world. I think, all people must be interested in lives of people from other countries, particularly in poor countries. And the greatest value of this book is that it gives advice on how we can support and help people who are in need.

Submitted by Abdulhadi94 on Thu, 01/10/2020 - 17:19

yes because i have found two of these books have caught my eyes . The first one is The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley the reason why i chose this book because the author addressed the fact that we are much good then we expect. The second book is The Great Surge by Steven Radelet which he has said there is an idea that people believe many of developing country is in bad situation which appear that is not true anymore . In fact they have the ability to have clean water , more girls can go to schools and more than a millions of people who are living in the developing area has paased the poverty zone

Submitted by Yemane on Fri, 29/05/2020 - 15:39

I found these books interesting. I hope I'll read them and understand more about the writers' ideas and opinions in a particular The Rational Optimist.