I recently heard a well-known pastor say, “The world is broken and it’s getting worse.” Not long ago, I would have agreed without hesitation. But after reading Upside by Bradley R.E. Wright, PhD, I found myself disagreeing, and even upset that the idea is so common in our culture.
At the suggestion of his editor, Wright wrote a book that answers the question, “Is the world getting better?” As an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut, he was more than qualified to examine the data and come to an objective conclusion. (And Upside is not the only book he’s written that examines and challenges widespread and commonly held beliefs. Wright also wrote Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites . . . And other Lies You’ve Been Told.)
To be honest, I chose to review this book because I didn’t believe it was possible to write a book asserting that our world is actually improving rather than getting worse. Not to mention I was sure that even if he could write that book, it wouldn’t have an ounce of credibility. Choosing this book was essentially my way of saying to Wright, “Oh yeah? Prove it.” Surprisingly, he did.
Wright followed the data—he didn’t exaggerate the improvements or tone down the negatives. He briefly traced the reasons people are so pessimistic about the state of our world and showed there has been significant improvement in most of the areas people worry about on a regular basis. He did an excellent job showing that, even though things have gotten worse in certain areas in recent years, it’s important to look at change over time. That’s what his research focused on—how is today’s data different from past data? Have things improved, or gotten worse?
And Wright tackled all the issues—the economy and finances, education and IQ, happiness and stress, health, crime, war, freedom, faith, marriage, families, and the environment. He wasn’t able to cover every topic in great detail, but he did go over the most significant issues. Some readers will probably not be convinced of the improvement because he didn’t really cover the specifics of the US government, but he did talk about freedom and democracy across the globe. His broad and general scope helped me keep perspective about what really matters and just how much it matters.
Wright’s writing style reminded me of a good college lecture. When I realized just how many statistics he would cover in the book, I cringed, expecting the writing to be as dry and boring as the environmental science textbook I plodded through a few years ago. But he surprised me with a friendly, easy-to-read style that brought back memories of my favorite college classes.
And—who knew?—this book of statistics was actually funny. Granted, it’s the kind of humor I attribute to my dad—quips that make you grin and groan at the same time. Groans or no groans, Wright’s humor helped me push through the charts and percentages—even the endnotes.
I wasn’t expecting it, but Upside really changed the way I listen to the world around me. It’s given me a whole new perspective on the way the media and people in general depict the state of our world and why. I may even have to go back and read Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites . . . And Other Lies You’ve Been Told.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review. My opinion of this book is my own and was not influenced by the publisher or author.