Upside, by Bradley R E Wright

book coverIt’s easy to get discouraged or feel paralyzed by what you hear about the terrible state of the world. But what if the media and other prophets of doom have misled us? Could the world actually be getting better?

Sociologist Brad Wright uses the best available data to uncover the truth about the world’s most important issues, including poverty, sickness, education, morality, and the environment. While admitting there is still work to be done, he shines a light on why so many things are improving and why no one is talking about it.

If you enjoy reading pages of statistics and looking at charts, then this is definitely a book you’ll enjoy. Wright has compiled statistics from various sources in all the areas listed above, and tells us that life in the USA has improved considerably over the past 100 years. In many ways, we know this to be true. We know the benefits of indoor plumbing and instant communication. Children are more likely to live past their first birthdays, and fewer women die in childbirth. We work fewer hours for higher pay, and we’re a lot less likely to suffer severe injury or die on the job.

The problem with Upside, however, is the statistics. Wright does very little primary research of his own, choosing to use previously published data. Since most of the data was compiled prior to the financial meltdown on 2008, we are left skeptical. If the same surveys were done today, would they tell us we are still improving, or would there have developed a downward trend starting from that time? Furthermore, we don’t know the benchmark for some of these results. For example, yes, we realize we receive a better education than in many countries. But how many children have graduated high school having slipped through the cracks? Are the SATs on the same level of difficulty now as they were twenty to thirty years ago? The section on war makes no mention of recent conflicts such as the first Gulf War or the Bosnian War of the early 1990s.

I was also disappointed by the small amount of qualitative data in the book. The front cover states, “Surprising GOOD NEWS About the State of Our World.” Since we hear so many bad news stories in the media I had hoped for some examples of good news, the so-called ‘feel good stories.’ In the chapter on education for example, it would have been interesting to read about a high school that has improved over the years. Maybe there are towns that have been brought back from the brink and revitalized. My favorite parts of the book are what Wright says are stories of “altruism,” examples of individuals and organizations doing their part to make a little bit of the world a better place. I would have liked to have read more of these.

Ultimately, statistics are good for giving us an overall view but they don’t take into account the personal situation. We’re earning more money? Try telling that to the father who was laid off from his high end management job and is now trying to make ends meet on minimum wage. Cancer survival rates are improving? Tell that to the woman who lost her mother and aunt to breast cancer and has now found a lump? These statistics are of small comfort. We need to find the Upside of our individual lives and focus on that.

Publisher: Bethany House

Page Count: 256

Release Date: 11 July 2011

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I received my complimentary copy of Upside from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.


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