‘Factfulness’ (noun), [fakt-ful-nis]: the relaxing habit of only believing things that are based on facts.
Hans Rosling starts Factfulness with a pop-quiz. The questions are straight-forward, but a surprisingly high number of people get them very wrong. He asks about what affects people every day: poverty, wealth, population growth, education, health, the environment, and more.
Rosling’s quiz isn’t on advanced calculus or obscure grammar rules. It’s about the state of the world. He asks about what affects people every day: poverty, wealth, population growth, education, health, the environment, and more. Few people pass because most people think the world is much worse than it really is.
Factfulness is a joy to read. Rosling is a master at combining data and story-telling. He exposes the tricks of the mind which lead all of us to underestimate the power of human progress. In so doing, he pinpoints where we can – and should – do better.
The People vs Democracy
Like many, Yascha Mounk believed that the victory of liberal democracy was inevitable. But over the past decade, authoritarian populist candidates rose to power in Poland, Hungary, Turkey and India. Surveys show a growing proportion of millennials are ambivalent about democracy.
Even the world’s most powerful liberal democracy – the United States – elected a president who demeans democratic norms, such as respect for the courts and the free press. Mounk laments that liberal democracies can unravel more readily than we have assumed.
The solutions are neither obvious nor easy. Mounk suggests some: stressing our shared values; ensuring the benefits of economic growth are well spread; reinforcing the benefits of liberal institutions; and rebuilding trust in politicians through transparency and tighter controls on money in politics. This is not ‘politics as usual’, and the stakes could not be higher.
Rusted Off: Why country Australia is fed up
Growing up in Sydney, Gabrielle Chan thought of rural Australia as “Another Country . . . a land in a fairy tale, existing only in books and movies”. Then in 1996, she married a farmer, and moved to a sheep and wheat farm in the southern NSW town of Harden.
The unusual combination of life in the bubble of the Canberra press gallery and the open spaces of ‘the bush’ have given journalist Chan a perspective on why rural voters are fed up with politics, deserting major parties even faster than city residents.
The gulf between Main Street and Canberra is widening, sapping voter faith. Chan shows that we need more authenticity, a real acknowledgement of the cultural divide, and willingness to do the hard work to rebuild community cohesion between city and country Australia.
No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison
An Iranian refugee who has been held on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea for five years, Behrouz Boochani is a journalist, poet, film-maker and a painfully gifted writer.
No Friend but the Mountains has its genesis in WhatsApp and text messages sent in furtive fragments to Boochani’s translator Omid Tofighian. It is deeply literary, a book rich in Kurdish culture and tradition.
Boochani’s claustrophobic narrative of the Manus compound is interspersed with poetic prose, but there is no respite from the hell he describes. His first-hand account of Australia’s asylum-seeker detention regime is gruelling – but essential – reading. It is an extraordinary, brutal piece, a gift of courage from a nightmare of repression and cruelty.
Women & Power: A Manifesto
Women remain under-represented at the highest ranks of society. Whether in government, academia, or business, gendered power imbalances are regrettably common, and stubbornly persistent.
In this brief yet potent manifesto, acclaimed classicist Mary Beard traces the origins of misogyny to its ancient roots. Drawing on her expert knowledge of Greco-Roman history, Beard deftly juxtaposes classical and contemporary examples of women’s struggles within patriarchal systems of power.
Women & Power is a call to arms. With a combination of wry wit and sharp urgency, Beard implores her readers to challenge the idea that power is fundamentally masculine. She urges society to reframe its definitions of power in the pursuit of real equality.
When Charlotte and Levi’s mother returns from the dead, Levi resolves to build his sister a coffin. Charlotte, not taking these developments well, decides to leave – and embarks on a journey through the wild Tasmanian landscape.
This is Robbie Arnott’s first novel, and it is delightful. He jumps playfully between different writing styles in every chapter, telling the story of Charlotte and her brother from the perspective of a different character each time. It’s a lot of fun for his readers (and, one imagines, for the author too).
It’s been a tough year. We all need a little escape. And Arnott provides one in this enchanting story that also captures something very real about Tasmanian life.