A dive into the 2022-23 Common Reading: ‘Factfulness’ by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund

The 2018 book by Swedish physician Rosling and his children focuses on why society as a whole assumes the worst and how the truth is actually not as a bad as we think.

A tradition that’s been around for 30 years, Elon University has selected a book for the Common Reading program since 1992 that represents the core values of the institution for first-year students and will be used in first-year coursework throughout the year.

The Common Reading for the upcoming 2022-23 academic year is “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think” by Swedish physician Hans Rosling and his children, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund, who finished the book after his passing in 2017.

“We look for a book that speaks to the moment. A book that allows students to either learn habits and behaviors, develop an attitude or learn some information about multiple issues that have global reach,” said Paula Patch, assistant director for first-year initiatives in the Elon Core Curriculum. “‘Factfulness’ ticks all the boxes.”

The main theme of the book is that as a society we tend to be more pessimistic when the fact of the matter is most things in the world aren’t as bad as we initially perceive. When presented with information about social issues, people usually assume the worst, Patch said. And one of the reasons for this, Rosling argues in the book, is that we take for granted the good in our lives, which overwhelmingly makes up the majority, and instead focus on the minuscule negatives.

“The things that capture our attention tend to be bad news. When we are presented with a question like, ‘In the last 20 years, has the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty doubled or halved,’ we are more likely to choose the answer that is negative,” she said.

The idea behind the Common Reading program is to have something that all first-year students can relate to. College is a time of many changes for students, and some can find it difficult to adjust.

The common reading is designed to ease that adjustment. If there’s a shared experience amongst students, that also educates about the core values of Elon and is used in various class lessons, then a sense of inclusiveness is created. Various departments on campus, including the Department of Mathematics & Statistics, Communication and Business, have shown interest in using “Factfulness” to enhance their curriculums.

“This is really important to the sense of belonging that we talk about at Elon,” Patch said. “When you’re a first-year student before you’ve gotten into your major, you don’t feel like there’s stuff that’s just for you. We can offer programming, particularly to first-year students, that feels like it’s just for them.”

During his distinguished life and career, Hans Rosling was an advisor to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, as well as the co-founder of Médecins sans Frontièrs (Doctors without Borders) in Sweden. Rosling was named as one of the Time 100 most influential people in 2012 and honored with the United Nations Population Award in 2017, among other achievements. He wrote several books and was the co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation which promotes sustainable global development.

Along with the lessons to be learned from “Factfulness,” Rosling’s altruism can serve as a great influence on the students who read it.

“Knowledge plus outreach is a fundamental theme through this book, and that seems to match our values at Elon,” Patch said. “You’re here to learn something but what are you going to do with that and how are you going to change the world? No pressure, but we expect you to change the world in a positive way.”