"Human Progress for Beginners" is the first children's book to advance the story of human progress and the truly astonishing improvements in global living standards that have taken place in the last 200 years. The book seeks to tell the optimistic story of how much better our lives are today than they were before industrialization - the "Enlightenment Now" for children if you will.
We’re working on the first optimistic children’s book on human progress ever to be written. We are working to tell the dramatic history of human civilization and the jagged upward path of improved living standards in the last 250 years. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, civilization has experienced the greatest increase in living standards, prosperity, and well-being in our species’ history. Human Progress for Beginners will tell the untold story of progress for young readers in a bright and engaging book, the likes of which has never been attempted.
Human Progress for Beginners has a mission to bring parents and children together in a journey ranging from our mastery of inexpensive light to life-saving vaccines and from dramatically improved child mortality to the global reduction in extreme poverty. We’re on a mission to inspire the world’s next generation of entrepreneurs, thinkers, engineers, scientists, and leaders, helping to drive human progress forward. We believe the world has become a much better place over the last few hundred years, but we still have more work to do. Progress forward isn’t progress completed! Growing up to help advance human civilization requires growing up with the belief that solving hard problems is important and possible – and what better way to get inspired to change the world than to see just how far we have come as a global civilization.
Children have their worldview shaped from an astonishingly young age by both an unapologetically pessimistic media and well-meaning but deeply misguided family, friends, and the general public. The zeitgeist of our era is one of deep despair, “civilization has slipped from greatness and is getting steadily worse”. Dive into the mainstream media, and it can feel as though we have collectively thrown in the towel on human progress in a resigned bid to go down laughing as civilization burns.
This culture looks past civilization’s historical long-run progress, seemingly unaware of just how hard life was for most people globally and just how much progress civilization has made. This culture, which is ignorant to, or discounts civilization’s progress, has deeply impactful ramifications for developing minds.
The state of civilization is, however, much better than it looks. Since the commencement of the Industrial Revolution, life expectancy, quality of life, and overall living standards have dramatically improved across the world. From the United States to The United Kingdom and Ethiopia to India and Bangladesh, people live longer, healthier, better fed and watered, more educated, and more economically prosperous lives.
In the United States, life expectancy since 1800 has climbed from 39.4 years to 78.6 years, while GDP per capita has grown from $1,980 to $56,700. Similarly, life expectancy in the United Kingdom improved from 39.6 years to 81.1 years and GDP per capita from $3,280 to $40,040 over the same period.
While living standards in developing countries have improved at a slower rate than the most developed countries in the West, life is still improving across the board for developing and developed alike. Much of the astonishing progress experienced has occurred in just the last 100 years. Child mortality dropped from 25% in India and Bangladesh in 1960 to <4% by 2019 and from >24% in Ethiopia to <6% in 2019. It is a largely similar story for nearly all of the developing world.
Since the age of industrialization, improving living standards have prevented hundreds of millions of families from losing one or more children to hunger, disease, injury, exposure, accident, or violence.
But it’s not just child mortality that has been dramatically reduced for the better - as a general trend, extreme poverty has been in a steady decline since the 18th century. Civilization started the Industrial Revolution with 89% of the global population living in extreme poverty; today it’s less than 10% and, on average, still on an overall improving trajectory. Literacy rates amongst the pre-industrial population were little better; at least 87% of men and women and nearly all children were illiterate, and that number has since fallen to 14%. As Max Roser from Our World In Data puts it, “In 1820 only every 10th person older than 15 years was literate; in 1930 it was every third and now we are at 86% globally. Put differently, if you were alive in 1800 there was a chance of 9 in 10 that you weren’t able to read – today more than 8 out of 10 people are able to read.”
All told, global living standards have improved dramatically. This fact is captured astonishingly well in books such as Progress, by Johan Norberg (2017), Factfulness by Hans Rosling (2018), The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, by Matt Ridley (2010), Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, by Steven Pinker (2018) and At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson (2010), and last but not least in the many excellent data sets from Our World In Data, and perhaps the most important graph in the history of civilization, provided by the team at Gapminder.
Human Progress for Beginners will take the enormous wealth of data found in these books as inspiration and build on the work of Gapminder and Our World In Data. The book will tell the story of human progress in an approachable way for 6-year-old to 12-years-old children and provide the supporting guidance, and references parents need to better understand the subject material. The project takes formatting in design and layout from “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls – Elena Favilli, Francesca Cavallo,” with bright, bold full-page illustrations and rich and immersive full-page text, Human Progress for Beginners is designed to get adults reading the history of progress to younger children, and in doing so, they are brought along the for the journey.
The project is currently raising funds for development and seeking an appropriate publisher to bring the mission to print. Project development is expected to last from April 1st, 2021, to December 2021.
If you want to help support Human Progress for Beginners, please consider donating to the project, following the project here, liking, commenting, and sharing our story. Together we can bring this unique book to market and help to inspire children with a present history that is better than our past and a future that could be brighter still.
Let’s make the world’s first children’s book on human progress.