Upside: Surprising Good News About the State of Our World
Honestly, I couldn't get past the first part where he talks about rock and roll guitar music and smoke machines being a drawing factor for him to visit his old church. (and my husband builds electric guitars for a living and is a really wonderful guitarist) Then he goes on to cover his sons ears when the pastor is heart broken over the state of the world and weeps over child sex slavery. Maybe something changes if you read on, but I just couldn't get past all that and didn't know if I wanted someone with these seemingly shallow views taking up any more of my time or soul. I was hoping for a book that quickly brought a Jesus perspective to the evident darkness in the world today -- you know, an upside. Maybe it does, but you've got to give me some hope in the first pages about where you are going or I won't commit to reading beyond that.
March 21, 2013
It is not all bad...
Once a few years ago, I read a ReaderÃ¢ÂÂs Digest article that said that the environmentalists were being dramatic, that the true state of our planet was better than it had been 100 years ago. There were some statistics in the article about crime rates and other phenomena as well. I was fascinated by the idea that our streets were more polluted and dangerous many decades ago, and one fact especially stuck with me: the methane given off by horses and cows all those years ago, generated more emissions than our cars of today. Since then, I have been less enamored with or drawn into the doomsday prophecies that have been so much a part of our media.
So, when I saw Dr. WrightÃ¢ÂÂs book was available to review, I got it with some anticipation that I would find more interesting things to think about. I was not disappointed. From the beginning, when Dr. Wright explores the optimism gap to the end when he summarizes the general improvement of the world, there are many pieces of information that form a picture of a much less degenerate and awful world than we often hear in the news.
Dr. Wright uses data only in the objective sense, and doesnÃ¢ÂÂt draw long conclusions about how the data is relevant to a specific issue, although he does develop a synopsis of the data that explains its spikes and dips. I liked the way the data was compiled and organized, and I particularly liked his sense of humor as he delved into tough topics. There were some things I didnÃ¢ÂÂt necessarily agree with him on, in terms of how he analyzed the data, but I didnÃ¢ÂÂt get the sense that he would take offense to that position. Still, where we disagreed there wasnÃ¢ÂÂt enough tension for me to get aggravated or take offense either.
One other area of Dr. WrightÃ¢ÂÂs book that was a pleasant surprise was the descriptions of charitable contributions and ministries from Christians who have a passion for serving others in order to reflect Christ to the world and make it a better place. Christians have a tremendous amount of impact on the world, and the more positive that impact is, the more likely it is that the positive trends Dr. Wright demonstrated in his tome will become even more prevalent.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade CommissionÃ¢ÂÂs 16 CFR, Part 255
November 18, 2011
A balanced assessment of the state of the world
IÃ¢ÂÂm always interested in hearing good news, but rarely expect positive reporting about the state of the world because I see so much in the television broadcast that discourages me. In fact, I approached this book with a bit of cynicism.
But Dr. Wright offers an encouraging look at the status of the worldÃ¢ÂÂs economy, education, relations, health, crime, freedom, faith and environment, backed up by statistics. He also proves that if we compare our lives today with previous years, we have a lot to be thankful for. I have been amazed at all the truths I would never have known if not for this book.
The author starts by discussing why most of us have a strong feeling that the world is in worse shape than ever before, and he counts the cost of pessimism. We learn about the doom-and-gloomers over the years, and how few of their predictions actually came true; now we can keep that in mind the next time we hear dark predictions on the news.
The first two chapters shift my perceptions, as I realize how much of what I Ã¢ÂÂknowÃ¢ÂÂ about the state of our world is based upon what is reported by the media for a drama-hungry audience. I also see how my perception of Ã¢ÂÂthe good old daysÃ¢ÂÂ (all the years before I was born) is skewed and how much better todayÃ¢ÂÂs world is in many ways.
Some positive statistics about education and intelligence are an example of one pleasant surprise. Test scores are holding steady or increasing for the years since the early 1970Ã¢ÂÂs when the U.S. started testing students, and students are taking more advanced math classes than their parents took. Education levels have risen around the world significantly since the turn of the century, and class sizes have actually decreased over time, despite that fact that more people attend school.
To me, one of the most shocking statistics Dr. Wright presents is the life expectancy chart. Did you know that the average life expectancy in the United States in 1900 was only about 45 years? As recently as 1950, India and China had life expectancies of about 40 years, but now both are up to about 65 years, a 50% increase in only a half-century!
In 1900 half the workers in Rhode Island factories and mills were eleven years old or younger, some as young as six or seven working twelve-hour shifts. That makes me realize how easy my own childhood was by comparison. This and other revelations makes me tend to agree with the author that the world, in many ways, is actually getting better.
Would you believe it if someone told you that our leisure time has increased? It has, but our technology makes us feel busier than ever. Crime rates have gone downÃ¢ÂÂthe data is available to prove itÃ¢ÂÂand there is a worldwide increase in freedom. These and other facts are a balm to our news-shy souls.
I am not a history buff, and rarely study the economic history of any country, but I have learned a lot of it from these pages. The author, a professor of sociology, also gives examples of Christians making a difference in each issue he discusses. I appreciate his plain writing, his objectivity and his sense of humor.
In a book so full of data and graphs, it would be easy for a reader to get overwhelmed and put it down. But the truths revealed are so interesting, it doesnÃ¢ÂÂt get dry. In places, however, the text was so detailed that it was far more than I needed, so I scanned it until a new topic was introduced. I valued the graphs, which were simple to understand and instantly gave a visual perception of the excellent research.
The authorÃ¢ÂÂs goal is to separate fact and fiction, and he does that well, so that we can recognize and celebrate the genuine progress and successes on this earth. I recommend this book. It is worth reading for an accurate assessment of the state of the world, especially our country, and an appreciation of how far weÃ¢ÂÂve gone in the past century.
[Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Bethany House book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.]
October 12, 2011
Encouraging and Illuminating
Gloomy. ThatÃ¢ÂÂs the general outlook that the vast majority of Americans seem to have when it comes to our future. Whether itÃ¢ÂÂs political wrangling, economic turmoil, pandemics or education Ã¢ÂÂ the present is bleak and the future is downright scary. ItÃ¢ÂÂs not just Al Gore predicting global devastation caused by global warming, nor is it simply the war-mongers who see a jihadist behind every bush, itÃ¢ÂÂs Christians too, who seem to enjoy pointing out how bad things are (and are getting).
Bradley Wright, in his new book published by Bethany House asks, Ã¢ÂÂWhat if the Doomsayers have it all wrong?Ã¢ÂÂ A Christian sociologist, in "Upside: Surprising Good News About the State of Our World Wright" explores why it is that so many of us canÃ¢ÂÂt get enough bad news, and why we all think that things are continually getting worse. The reality, however, is a far cry from the perception! And Wright proves his point by the end of the book.
Reading "Upside", was like inhaling a deep breath of fresh air. On so many fronts, there has been remarkable progress in the world. Life expectancy, health and disease, poverty and access to clean water, air pollution, crime, financial well-being, literacy Ã¢ÂÂ all these areas and more have seen astounding improvement in the last 200 years.
For some examples: Life expectancy has doubled around the world in the last 100 years, as vaccines, hygiene improvements, medicine and general safety measures have become widely available. Did you know that in the 1820s, the world average of life expectancy was only 26, now itÃ¢ÂÂs 66 and rising. Literacy rates have soared from 25% to over 80% worldwide in the last 100 years, and extreme poverty has been cut in half just since the 1980s, in developing countries. Financially, the world income rates have increased 1300% since 1820 Ã¢ÂÂ 300% per capita income increase just since 1955. We are able to feed more people for less money than ever, and more people are healthy than ever. And theyÃ¢ÂÂre living longer, fuller lives. Things have dramatically changed since the early 1800s.
Some would counter and say, well what about pollution and global warming. Wright shows that both air and water pollution have dramatically improved since the 1970s when the issue was first trumpeted and environmental controls started being written into law. Even deforestation is beginning to level out with some gains being made in some regions of the world. There are still improvements to be made, donÃ¢ÂÂt get me wrong, but the direction has turned.
Others would say crime is on the rise. But statistically it is not. Even as the population has soared, the homicide and burglary rates have dropped significantly since the 1980s. This drop correlates with a dramatic rise in the incarceration rate. In the US, we have 1 in 100 adults behind bars, and including probation and parolees, that number rises to an astounding 1 in 33 adults!
Certainly, most Christians would think the family is weaker and morality is far worse than it has been in AmericaÃ¢ÂÂs past. But for three generations, levels of premarital sex, for instance, have been fairly consistent, with a slight rise in todayÃ¢ÂÂs numbers versus the previous generation. Divorce rates have actually fallen since the 1980s, as have abortion rates. For marriages and families, the reality is certainly a mixed bag, but the immoral culture of America has been on a trajectory away from the JudeoChristian ethic for the last 75 years or more.
Now, with all the good news, why is there still so much pessimism? Much of the pessimism, Wright claims, can be traced to advocates not wanting good news to cause people to relax when it comes to supporting their cause. Environmentalists, for example, donÃ¢ÂÂt want you to know that the environment is getting better, otherwise they may lose financial support. It can also stem from the fact that bad news sells, and a steady diet of bad news breeds an expectation of more bad news. The problem with all this is that unwarranted pessimism can obscure our focus on areas where we really should be pessimistic. Wright explains: Ã¢ÂÂPessimism, if accurate, can serve us well, and ignoring real problems has its own costs. Accurate perceptions of the world both in the ways that itÃ¢ÂÂs getting better and worse, is the ideal.Ã¢ÂÂ (pg. 31)
WrightÃ¢ÂÂs findings arenÃ¢ÂÂt all positive. He started his book Ã¢ÂÂwith the simple question of whether life is getting betterÃ¢ÂÂ, and his answer is Ã¢ÂÂmostly yes.Ã¢ÂÂ He goes on: Ã¢ÂÂThink of it this way: Is there any other period in history when people were better off than now? I donÃ¢ÂÂt see one.Ã¢ÂÂ (pg. 205) In his conclusion he challenges his readers to to be aware of all the good news, and thank God for the state of our world: Ã¢ÂÂWhile we hear people thank God for their food, their healthy children, or their job, when was the last time you heard someone thank God for the declining national crime rate? Or the rise in literacy around the world? Or the amazing decrease in poverty over the past generation? ArenÃ¢ÂÂt these things worth being thankful for?Ã¢ÂÂ (pg. 217)
Wright has an important point, which is why I think it is so important to read this book. ItÃ¢ÂÂs not just a book full of dry statistics, nor is it written with a preachy tone. Interspersed throughout his analysis of the state of our world are personal anecdotes, witty observations and off-the-wall interesting stats. The following quote, illustrates WrightÃ¢ÂÂs knack at keeping his discussion of numbers fun: Ã¢ÂÂOn average, a passenger would have to take a commercial airline flight every day for 20,000 years before they died in a crash. By then, death might be a welcome escape from peanuts and pretzels.Ã¢ÂÂ (pg. 111)
There are not many books out there like "Upside". I recommend you purchase a copy for some needed relief from the deafening drone of constant bad news. Read it and rejoice in what God has done for this world in the last 200 years. Then tell someone else that things arenÃ¢ÂÂt all as bad as they might seem!
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Bethany House publishers. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.
August 12, 2011