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The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century Hardcover – April 5, 2005
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Thomas L. Friedman is not so much a futurist, which he is sometimes called, as a presentist. His aim, in his new book, The World Is Flat, as in his earlier, influential Lexus and the Olive Tree, is not to give you a speculative preview of the wonders that are sure to come in your lifetime, but rather to get you caught up on the wonders that are already here. The world isn't going to be flat, it is flat, which gives Friedman's breathless narrative much of its urgency, and which also saves it from the Epcot-style polyester sheen that futurists--the optimistic ones at least--are inevitably prey to.
What Friedman means by "flat" is "connected": the lowering of trade and political barriers and the exponential technical advances of the digital revolution have made it possible to do business, or almost anything else, instantaneously with billions of other people across the planet. This in itself should not be news to anyone. But the news that Friedman has to deliver is that just when we stopped paying attention to these developments--when the dot-com bust turned interest away from the business and technology pages and when 9/11 and the Iraq War turned all eyes toward the Middle East--is when they actually began to accelerate. Globalization 3.0, as he calls it, is driven not by major corporations or giant trade organizations like the World Bank, but by individuals: desktop freelancers and innovative startups all over the world (but especially in India and China) who can compete--and win--not just for low-wage manufacturing and information labor but, increasingly, for the highest-end research and design work as well. (He doesn't forget the "mutant supply chains" like Al-Qaeda that let the small act big in more destructive ways.) Friedman tells his eye-opening story with the catchy slogans and globe-hopping anecdotes that readers of his earlier books and his New York Times columns will know well, and also with a stern sort of optimism. He wants to tell you how exciting this new world is, but he also wants you to know you're going to be trampled if you don't keep up with it. His book is an excellent place to begin. --Tom Nissley
Where Were You When the World Went Flat?
Thomas L. Friedman's reporter's curiosity and his ability to recognize the patterns behind the most complex global developments have made him one of the most entertaining and authoritative sources for information about the wider world we live in, both as the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times and as the author of landmark books like From Beirut to Jerusalem and The Lexus and the Olive Tree. They also make him an endlessly fascinating conversation partner, and we'd happily have peppered him with questions about The World Is Flat for hours. Read our interview to learn why there's almost no one from Washington, D.C., listed in the index of a book about the global economy, and what his one-plank platform for president would be. (Hint: his bumper stickers would say, "Can You Hear Me Now?")
The Essential Tom Friedman
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From Beirut to Jerusalem
The Lexus and the Olive Tree
Longitudes and Attitudes
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More on Globalization and Development
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Before 9/11, New York Times columnist Friedman was best known as the author of The Lexus and the Olive Tree, one of the major popular accounts of globalization and its discontents. Having devoted most of the last four years of his column to the latter as embodied by the Middle East, Friedman picks up where he left off, saving al-Qaeda et al. for the close. For Friedman, cheap, ubiquitous telecommunications have finally obliterated all impediments to international competition, and the dawning "flat world" is a jungle pitting "lions" and "gazelles," where "economic stability is not going to be a feature" and "the weak will fall farther behind." Rugged, adaptable entrepreneurs, by contrast, will be empowered. The service sector (telemarketing, accounting, computer programming, engineering and scientific research, etc.), will be further outsourced to the English-spoken abroad; manufacturing, meanwhile, will continue to be off-shored to China. As anyone who reads his column knows, Friedman agrees with the transnational business executives who are his main sources that these developments are desirable and unstoppable, and that American workers should be preparing to "create value through leadership" and "sell personality." This is all familiar stuff by now, but the last 100 pages on the economic and political roots of global Islamism are filled with the kind of close reporting and intimate yet accessible analysis that have been hard to come by. Add in Friedman's winning first-person interjections and masterful use of strategic wonksterisms, and this book should end up on the front seats of quite a few Lexuses and SUVs of all stripes. (Apr. 5)
Top customer reviews
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make it "flatter". By reading the book, one may learn valuable things about outsourcing, in-sourcing, the advantages and disadvantages of various world regions and
the problems that the U.S. faces. Mr. Friedman discusses the tremendous conflict between destructive forces that "unflatten" the world and positive forces that
are aiding the world. I feel that Mr. Friedman brings in too many of his personal points of view on politics and how he feels about foreign policy. His discussions of America's involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, the implementing of a federal health insurance policy and President Bush's leadership are biased. However, there is no denying that he understands many of the forces pushing globalization of world economies as pioneered by companies like Amazon.com, UPS, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, etc.
I have some interest in reading some of Mr. Friedman's more recent book HOT, FLAT AND CROWDED, but I feel that there may be an overly environmentalist theme to it.
THE WORLD IS FLAT is mostly objective, and it reads more like a documentary with anecdotes than a political or philosophical writing. The writing style is clear, engaging and brisk. When there is discussion of economic and social issues, the book is very fascinating. When there is discussion of political issues or foreign affairs, however, I think Mr. Friedman gets too controversial.
Angelo J. Salvo
Ormond Beach, Florida
This book is a powerful, detailed explanation about the forces that have flattened the world and the skills that we need to acquire if we are going to survive in the resulting competitive environment. Flatteners include the fall of the Berlin wall and the resulting openness between East and West; the arrival of web browsers to allow easy access to the internet; workflow software that allows for the creation of "all-world supply chains"; uploading as a way individuals can contribute to the larger community (e.g. open source, YouTube); outsourcing and the way it promoted international collaboration; offshoring; supply-chaining; insourcing--his term for integrating other companies into your own infrastructure; search tools that bring information to our fingertips and numerous technological multipliers that have heightened all these effects through advances in communication, digitization, videoconferencing etc.
Freidman gives countless detailed illustrations that make his points. We learn how Wal-Mart and UPS, Dell and Netscape do business. He describes how India and Ireland (yes- Ireland) have lept ahead in high tech jobs by emphasizing superior educational opportunities. He describes how 60% of all bachelor's degrees earned in China are in Science and Engineering, compared to 31% in the U.S. He describes the role culture, politics and religion have had particularly since 9/11.
The most helpful part of the book describes the skills we will need to survive. There will always be a demand for people who are: Collaborators, synthesizers, explainers, leveragers, adapters, passionate personalizers and localizers. These high-end skills that emphasize creative thinking, problem visualization and solution can't be outsourced, digitized or automated out of existence.
Thanks to his reputation, Friedman has had access to heads of state, CEOs, top scientists and politicians across the world. The result is a solid analysis that is eye-opening. "You can flourish in this flat world, but it does take the right imagination and the right motivation."
I did not see interviews or data which was returned from outsourcing ventures that were not successful, of which there are many. Many American companies have lost money in china. Thousands of missions have been given to foreign consulting firms that have not been completed. The benefits and risks of globalization and the emerging economy have to be balanced carefully. My opion was that the author is impressed by the rescources of other countries and a bit of a sceptic on Americas position and future in the world.
Overall a good book, I'd recommend it, and I liked the way that he packaged the facts in the front part of the book.