The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Friedman is a hefty tome on global economic theory of all things, which sounds like the last book I’d find myself reading. But this buzzword book by New York Times columnist Friedman is actually a fascinating discussion on our world and how quickly technology has changed it. I get this feeling sometimes when I’m at work busily using Google to research facts that would’ve taken hours to uncover a decade ago. History rarely is so immediate when you’re living it, but Friedman steps back a bit to show us how quickly commerce and exchange has changed just since 2000.
What’s interesting about it is that it isn’t the U.S. that’s really been affected so much as places like India and China, which Friedman convincingly shows us are rapidly catching up to and even exceeding the U.S. in both brainpower and willpower. Globalization isn’t something that can be ignored or even really stopped, he writes, and too many folks in the U.S. seem to think harping about it will change the way technology is making everyone level players in a flat world. Instead he focuses on how to make globilization fair, humane and effective for all. He also offers a firm call for Americans to not coast on the success they had in the 20th century, because future progress isn’t a guarantee.
Friedman takes a refreshingly non-political road for the most part, although he deservedly lashes the Bush administration several times, and notes how the U.S. has been so consumed by “the War on Terror” the past five years that it’s missed a lot of how the rest of the world is changing.
Now, you can quibble with a lot of Friedman’s reasoning – he does tend to focus on the positive side of globalization, and I have to admit the entire globe becoming Wal-Marts and Starbucks is an image I don’t want to see – but overall The World Is Flat is a very thoughtful treatise that does what few books can do – make you think about the “big picture.”
The biggest flaw is that it’s just about 100 pages too long, and after a while, Friedman’s point feels redundant. (Drinking game: every time he says the world is flat, take a shot. Pass out at page 78). Still, it’s recommended reading if only to provide you something to mull over.
It’s a book that has lingered in my mind for weeks after reading, and one I keep coming back to whenever I read news stories about this quickly changing world we’re part of.