Frontlist | The Future Is Bright. These Five Books Show Why
The future is bright? Hard to believe perhaps, especially since we are still in the middle of the worst recession ever and face a global pandemic that just doesn’t want to stop. But the fact is that, despite what we feel and despite how we believe things are, the world, we, and the future are in much better shape than it seems. The only problem: hardly anyone believes this because it sounds to good to be true. But true it is.
Of course there are problems, and they are major. There is the Covid-19 pandemic, there is climate change, there is inequality, there is global unrest, and so on. However, historically, we live in the best time ever—despite the problems. And what is more, things are not getting worse, they are getting better.
The evidence is overwhelming. It is not just one study or a handful of studies showing this. It is hundreds, or even thousands of studies providing fact after fact showing how well things are going. And they don’t just show that the world is doing well and getting better. They also show that we, as human species are doing well. As it turns out, we aren’t quite the selfish profit-maximizing “homo economicus” that our self-fulling theories and management tools assume. We are much more social and kinder than that. We care. And that gives all reason to be hopeful and optimistic about the future.
The results of these numerous studies have been put together in five masterful, hopeful books that everyone on this planet should read. They are already bestsellers, and they are praised by some of the world’s most influential persons, including Barack Obama and Bill Gates. Individually, they are convincing in and of themselves. But together, they tell a truly important story that corrects much of what we believe and gives all reason to be optimistic.
Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future (2006, Johan Norberg)
The first, and oldest book of the five is Progress by Johan Norberg. It is the most fact-based and straightforward book. Page after page, it provides overwhelming and astonishing data showing how the world has made more progress in the last 100 years than in the 100,000 years before—and regarding virtually every aspect of live that matters: food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the environment, literacy, freedom, equality, and the next generation.
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress (2018, Steven Pinker)
A very similar book to Progress, but based on more than a decade of new data, and written in a more eloquent style providing a deeper analysis of why things have become so much better. It adds additional aspects of life that have dramatically improved on top of the ten from Norberg, including quality of life, knowledge, democracy, and happiness. Next to that, its main addition is a profound analysis of what has caused this astonishing improvement: reason, science, humanism and progress as key values of the Enlightenment. The main message: we should use our faculties of reason and sympathy in moving forward.
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think (2018, Hans Rosling)
Once again a fact-based book, written by the founders of the Gapminder Foundation—an initiative aimed at “fighting devastating ignorance with a fact-based worldview.” Like the first two books, it is full of facts, data, and figures showing how things have become much better over time, all over the globe. What it adds is an analysis of why we have such a hard time believing all the facts. It is not only ignorance—the fact that we don’t know the facts. There are no less then ten important human biases (“instincts”) at play that hinder us: the gap instinct, the negativity instinct, the straight line instinct, the fear instinct, the size instinct, the generalization instinct, the destiny instinct, the single perspective instinct, the blame instinct, and the urgency instinct. The main message: we should control these distorting instincts and rely on the facts instead.
Humankind: A Hopeful History (2020, Rutger Bregman)
While the first three books focus on correcting our beliefs about the state of the world, Humankind focuses on correcting our beliefs about ourselves. As Bregman shows very convincingly in this book, we are not the selfish species we think we are and civilization is not a thin layer of veneer that will crack as soon as put to the test. On the contrary, when analyzing the true story of the famous Standford Prison Experiment and many other stories, it turns out that we are a social and decent species. Like a puppy, it is our friendliness, playfulness, trust, cooperation and compassion that have made us so successful. The main message: it is time for a new realism based on believing the fact that humans are good.
Utopia for Realists—and how We Can Get There (2017, Rutger Bregman)
The last book in the list is also by Bregman and written before Humankind. The previous books all look backward to correct our view about the world and ourselves based on facts. Utopia for Realists is an equally hopeful, but more forward looking book. Based on the same realism as the other books promote, it takes a remarkable perspective. Bregman’s main claim in this book is: compared to any time before, we live in paradise and our main problem is that we don’t have any concrete dreams anymore about how things could even be better. In other words, because we live in Utopia, we have no reason to get out of bed anymore. Largely focusing on how we could better spend our wealth, it explores a number of fresh and simple but evidence-based ideas for improvement. The main message: dare to dream again and have the guts to trust the facts in making the world a better place.
The future is bright? According to these five books, and the overwhelming evidence they provide, it is. With close to 2000 pages altogether, they are quite a read. But there is no better start of the new year to correct our worldview by a fact-based, optimistic realism about the great world we live in and our ability to make it even better.