Monday, August 8, 2011

Book Review for Upside: Surprising Good News About the State of Our World by Bradley R.E. Wright, PhD

Upside: Surprising Good News About the State of Our World

   It'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?(From the back cover)

Bradley Wright is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. In his book “Upside” he takes on the challenge to prove that the world is not getting worse but mostly getting better. Using studies and graphs, Wright shows, statistically, people's perception about the state of our world and if these perceptions match up to the concrete math of the graph.

Wright breaks down these perceptions in each chapter, covering finances, intelligence and education, health, crime, war, religion, marriage and the environment. He looks at what studies say people believe about these different topics and how our perceptions actually measure up.

On the one hand, I think Wright makes some very good points. I don't watch TV except what I order on NetFlix. So aside from old Mission Impossible and Star Trek reruns, I'm pretty ignorant about what's shown on television these days. I personally consider this a good thing.

For example, once while visiting my parents I watched an hour of the news with them. In the one hour I heard of more rape, murder, crime and incredibly inane information about movie stars than I had heard in several years put together. I remember feeling such a heaviness in my heart afterward.

Wright attributes much of our pessimism to what we are filling our minds with. Because news media is out to make a buck they have to use hyperbole to sell their product and the fact is, bad news sells. The downside to this is aberrant behavior is made to seem normal and everyday.

Another culprit of our doomsday mentality, according to Wright, are activist organizations that use alarmist and scare tactics in order to get donations.

A while ago, Greenpeace mistakenly posted on its Web site an incomplete draft of a press release. It read: 'In the twenty years since the Chernobeyl tragedy, the world's worst nuclear accident, there have been nearly (FILL IN ALAMRIST AND ARMAGED-DONIST FACTOID HERE).' This press release template illustrates the strategic role of alarmism in the work of environmental groups. (pg. 181)

Also, he accurately points out the progress made in medicine, clean drinking water, and laws prohibiting racial and gender discrimination that have made life better for people, at least in America.

He does show that there are areas where we have gotten worse: We are getting fatter (surprise, surprise) and out of wedlock births and unmarried cohabitation has increased.

Wright's last chapter is proactive. He lists several strategies that we individually and together can do about the information we receive-both the good and the bad.

Interspersed with this information are caveats of Christians making a difference. Side notes include Partners Worldwide a nonprofit organization of Christian business people who form partnerships with developing countries, a husband and wife team who founded Christian Literacy Associates and Love INC, a group that guides local churches in recognizing and meeting the needs in their communities.

In conclusion, I'm not sure I agree with everything Wright says (for instance he cites joblessness with African Americans do to lack of opportunity rather than fatherlessness and the enabling of the welfare state plus he contends that the majority of Americans and people in the world are, in fact, Christians-something I don't buy, not even for Americans) I still think that his book and graphs are worth reading and considering.

I received a complimentary copy of this book by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.


  1. I agree, I think things are getting better, it's just that the world has gotten smaller. Now, every occurrence gets major coverage in real time. In years past by the time this occurrence would have made the news it would have been a non-issue.

  2. Man of la Book: Good point. I frankly don't miss watching the news on TV.

  3. I really appreciated this review and am going to pick up his book, thanks! I don't have a tv here in Brussels (trying to live simply on 2 continents has its choices) and I found the same thing: I do not miss the news, I cannot watch the news and its images. I read news on BBC, which helps, but there is so much GOOD news in the world that we could also be sharing---maybe we need a Good News channel? :)

    Hugs from Brussels!

  4. Hi Sarah! Thanks for visiting back! I lived in Germany for four years when I was a kid. We didn't have much tv either and played a ton of board games. I also (as you may have guessed) read voraciously. Take care!

  5. This book sounds interesting... might have to check it out! I can definitely identify with what you said about TV. I honestly don't even know why I own a TV (wait... make that three of them) or bother subscribing to cable anymore, I honestly don't think I switch the thing on from one week to the next. Sometimes I'll get home from work in the evening and switch the TV on hoping for some useful information about what's going on in the world... only to find inane celebrity gossip or voyeuristic (and frankly pointless) coverage of whatever court case the media is all over this week. Sigh...

    Makes me want to get rid of the TVs and use the space they take up for something useful!

  6. Indolent reader: I can tell you I haven't missed tv at all. I once was in a hotel and was watching a little tv for lack of anything else to do. The commercials about drove me nuts!


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.