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That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back Kindle Edition

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Length: 402 pages

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“[In That Used to Be Us there] are big truths, and the authors see them clearly and whole. As is usual in Mr. Friedman’s work the power of the core argument is buttressed by detailed reportage and blizzards of specific fact and detail, but the accumulation of anecdote and evidence never detracts from the book’s central thrust. That Used to Be Us is an important contribution to an intensifying debate, and it deserves the widest possible attention.” —Walter Russell Mead, The New York Times

“Friedman and Mandelbaum are men of the American elite, and they write to salute those members of the American elite who behave public-spiritedly and to scourge those who do not. They are winners, writing to urge other winners to have more of a care for their fellow citizens who are not winners. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that! . . . American society has had a big serving of that ugly anti-elitist spirit in the recent past. It could use more of the generous responsible spirit Friedman and Mandelbaum recommend.” —David Frum, The New York Times Book Review

“[An] important and eminently readable book…” —Stanley Hoffmann, The New York Review of Books

“This is a book of exceptional importance, written on a sweeping scale with remarkable clarity by two of our most gifted thinkers. A soon-to-be best seller, it should be read by policymakers and every American concerned about our country's future.” —Elizabeth L. Winter, Library Journal

Review

'A fascinating, chilling book. This book is daunting because it doesn't only apply to superpower America but to shrunken-power UK' Observer 'Aiming to fill the gap they think Obama has left, Friedman and Mandelbaum present an ambitious programme for retooling America' Financial Times 'Few could fundamentally disagree with the authors' diagnosis' Independent

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

232 of 256 people found the following review helpful By R. Pokkyarath on September 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I wasn't sure whether I should purchase this one. After all, what is it about these problems that is already not widely known, what suggestions/prescriptions can the authors come up with which has not been mentioned by someone or the other. I jumped in anyway.

I don't see a Look Inside for this book; maybe, they'll add it later, but I'll add a quick summary of the book. The book is divided into 5 parts:

Part 1: The Diagnosis
Imitating the DHS's campaign message "If You See Something, Say Something", the authors say that the symptoms of America's decline is all around for us to see. He contrasts the Chinese gusto in completing a convention center in 8 months--which he visited for the WEF summer summit--to the lackadaisical attitude he sees at the Washington Metrorail; talks about his visit to the White House where a door handle came off while he was opening it, only to hear the Secret Service agent remarking, "Oh, it does that sometimes". The authors goes on to say that America as a country has failed to adjust itself to the post cold-war era and failed to address some of the biggest problems, including Education, Deficits, Energy needs and Climate Change; our ability to react and respond to challenges and opportunities has drastically come down. The worst part of this decline, according to the authors, is that it's slow in coming and hence, we fail to even recognize the existence of the problem. A depleted America will not just be bad for the Americans, but to the whole world as well because, according to the author, the US plays a constructive role in world economy and politics and that will be hard to replace.
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281 of 313 people found the following review helpful By S. A. Lee on September 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"That Used to Be Us" delves deeply into the major problems confronting America. The book is well-written and uses a journalistic style similar to other books by Friedman: it includes a lot of anecdotes and quotations. The book starts by comparing a six-month project to fix two small escalators at a New Jersey train station with an eight-month project in China that resulted in the construction of a massive and ornate convention center. That comparison underlies the book's title -- the idea that the U.S. no longer leads the world in its ability to innovate and to efficiently create new things and ideas.

The book is divided into parts that focus on the major challenges we face: (1) Educating our workforce in an age where globalization and information technology have merged into a force that is disrupting job markets. (2) Overcoming the "War on Math," which has led us to recklessly cut taxes and ignore the impact of deficits and the growing dept burden, and the "War on Physics" which has led to rampant denial of the realities of climate change science and energy policy. (3) Political failure, driven by gridlock and the overwhelming influence of money in politics, and our failure invest in basic scientific research, critical infrastructure and to implement and maintain rational regulation of markets.

The part of the book that will perhaps be of particular interest to many readers is the discussion of how technology and globalization are impacting jobs and careers. The job market has been "polarized" so that routine, middle skill jobs have been eliminated, leaving only high skill jobs requiring lots of education and lots lower wage jobs that so far cannot be automated or offshored.
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563 of 690 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on September 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Thomas Friedman is one of my favorite columnists, and I looked forward to 'That Used to be Us' because it addresses America's #1 problem - our sagging economy. However, Friedman and co-author Mandelbaum's analysis of the causes and cures for our economic malaise is confused and often erroneous.

The book begins with Friedman comparing two projects - the six months required to repair two D.C. Metro escalators with 21 steps each near his Bethesda home, and China's building its new Meijiang Convention Center (2.5 million square feet, with gigantic escalators) in eight months. The comparison symbolizes how China's economic dynamism makes 21st-century America seem sickly and inept. Unfortunately, the authors attribute our current state of affairs to a loss of intensity and purpose after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Reality, however, is that our relative decline vs. China began with Premier Deng Xiaoping's 'socialism with Chinese characteristics' in 1979, and intensified after 9/11 as the U.S. became preoccupied with terrorism and paralyzed by increasingly partisan politics, while the Chinese began moving, largely unnoticed, up the economic value chain.

Continuing, the authors contend that America faces three other major challenges - the IT revolution, our chronic and growing deficits, and our world-leading energy consumption. The 'solution' - reviving the values, priorities, and practices that we have used to succeed in the past. The remainder of the book consists of underlying details and their blueprint for doing so.

Globalization (and the hollowing out and weakening of the American economy) was largely initiated by American firms transferring American technologies and management skills while seeking lower-cost production.
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