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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group


Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund

Flatiron Books



Why I Love the Circus

I love the circus. I love to watch a juggler throwing screaming chain saws in the air, or a tightrope walker performing ten flips in a row. I love the spectacle and the sense of amazement and delight at witnessing the seemingly impossible.

When I was a child my dream was to become a circus artist. My parents’ dream, though, was for me to get the good education they never had. So I ended up studying medicine.

One afternoon at medical school, in an otherwise dry lecture about the way the throat worked, our professor explained, “If something is stuck, the passage can be straightened by pushing the chin bone forward.” To illustrate, he showed an X-ray of a sword swallower in action.

I had a flash of inspiration. My dream was not over! A few weeks earlier, when studying reflexes, I had discovered that of all my classmates, I could push my fingers farthest down my throat without gagging. At the time, I had not been too proud: I didn’t think it was an important skill. But now I understood its value, and instantly my childhood dream sprang back to life. I decided to become a sword swallower.

My initial attempts weren’t encouraging. I didn’t own a sword so used a fishing rod instead, but no matter how many times I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and tried, I’d get as far as an inch and it would get stuck. Eventually, for a second time, I gave up on my dream.

Three years later I was a trainee doctor on a real medical ward. One of my first patients was an old man with a persistent cough. I would always ask what my patients did for a living, in case it was relevant, and it turned out he used to swallow swords. Imagine my surprise when this patient turned out to be the very same sword swallower from the X-ray! And imagine this, when I told him all about my attempts with the fishing rod. “Young doctor,” he said, “don’t you know the throat is flat? You can only slide flat things down there. That is why we use a sword.”

That night after work I found a soup ladle with a straight flat handle and immediately resumed my practice. Soon I could slide the handle all the way down my throat. I was excited, but being a soup ladle shaft swallower was not my dream. The next day, I put an ad in the local paper and soon I had acquired what I needed: a Swedish army bayonet from 1809. As I successfully slid it down my throat, I felt both deeply proud of my achievement and smug that I had found such a great way to recycle weapons.

Sword swallowing has always shown that the seemingly impossible can be possible, and inspired humans to think beyond the obvious. Occasionally I demonstrate this ancient Indian art at the end of one of my lectures on global development. I step up onto a table and rip off my professorial checked shirt to reveal a black vest top decorated with a gold sequined lightning bolt. I call for complete silence, and to the swirling beat of a snare drum I slowly slide the army bayonet down my throat. I stretch out my arms. The audience goes wild.

Test Yourself

This book is about the world, and how to understand it. So why start with the circus? And why would I end a lecture by showing off in a sparkly top? I’ll soon explain. But first, I would like you to test your knowledge about the world. Please find a piece of paper and a pencil and answer the 13 fact questions below.

1. In all low-income countries across the world today, how many girls finish primary school?

? A: 20 percent

? B: 40 percent

? C: 60 percent

2. Where does the majority of the world population live?

? A: Low-income countries

? B: Middle-income countries

? C: High-income countries

3. In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has …

? A: almost doubled

? B: remained more or less the same

? C: almost halved

4. What is the life expectancy of the world today?

? A: 50 years

? B: 60 years

? C: 70 years

5. There are 2 billion children in the world today, aged 0 to 15 years old. How many children will there be in the year 2100, according to the United Nations?

? A: 4 billion

? B: 3 billion

? C: 2 billion

6. The UN predicts that by 2100 the world population will have increased by another 4 billion people. What is the main reason?

? A: There will be more children (age below 15)

? B: There will be more adults (age 15 to 74)

? C: There will be more very old people (age 75 and older)

7. How did the number of deaths per year from natural disasters change over the last hundred years?

? A: More than doubled

? B: Remained about the same

? C: Decreased to less than half

8. There are roughly 7 billion people in the world today. Which map shows best where they live? (Each figure represents 1 billion people.)

9. How many of the world’s 1-year-old children today have been vaccinated against some disease?

? A: 20 percent

? B: 50 percent

? C: 80 percent

10. Worldwide, 30-year-old men have spent 10 years in school, on average. How many years have women of the same age spent in school?

? A: 9 years

? B: 6 years

? C: 3 years

11. In 1996, tigers, giant pandas, and black rhinos were all listed as endangered. How many of these three species are more critically endangered today?

? A: Two of them

? B: One of them

? C: None of them

12. How many people in the world have some access to electricity?

? A: 20 percent

? B: 50 percent

? C: 80 percent

13. Global climate experts believe that, over the next 100 years, the average temperature will …

? A: get warmer

? B: remain the same

? C: get colder

Here are the correct answers:

1: C, 2: B, 3: C, 4: C, 5: C, 6: B, 7: C, 8: A, 9: C, 10: A, 11: C, 12: C, 13: A

Score one for each correct answer, and write your total score on your piece of paper.

Scientists, Chimpanzees, and You

How did you do? Did you get a lot wrong? Did you feel like you were doing a lot of guessing? If so, let me say two things to comfort you.

Copyright © 2018 by Hans Rosling

Illustrations © 2018 by Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund