The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas L. Friedman

The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century
Thomas L. Friedman
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York: 2006)

Expanded and revised version, 2006; original edition, 2005.

READ: January 2007 (unfinished)

All you need to know about this book is summarized thus: Ugh.

For those of you who feel that isn't an adequate review, read on:

I was looking forward to reading this book. It had been recommended to me by a few people, and I kept seeing it at bookstores - even those bookstores that only sell a handful of English-language books. But the fact it was alongside Danielle Steele and Da Vinci's Code* should have tipped me off.

I made it through 300-some pages, so 2/3 of the way through, before I decided enough was enough, that I had much more worthy books on my shelf, and I wasn't going to read it anymore. The problem was, I didn't like the book from about page 5! I was giving Friedman the benefit of the doubt. I thought he might change! Alas, I can be too patient of a reader sometimes.

Friedman is a columnist at the New York Times and I guess his The Lexus and the Olive Tree is considered (by some, at least) to be the definitive work on the Middle East. Well, all I can say is that I hope it is better-researched and more critical than The World is Flat. This book reads like a long, lengthy, never-ending magazine article. And, with all due respect to magazine writers, here we have an incredibly BAD magazine article. He has lengthy quotes from various players in the global market, but they are all CEOs and other people who have already bought into the "flat world" way of thinking. In other words, Friedman seems to have only spoken to people who already agree with his thesis. That just doesn't "do it" for me.

I need to start reading with sticky-tabs handy. There were many sentences and paragraphs that made me snort derisively, and I wish I could find one now to share with you. The amount of times Friedman pointed something out that was either blatantly obvious or blatantly one-sided just made me cringe. What? He's going to spend another 550 pages telling me businesses need to go global, that they can't do it all themselves and remain economically efficient? Tell me something I don't know. Or at least, tell me in a way that could possibly garner some debate. Maybe - here's a radical idea - maybe tell me what an anti-globalization activist thinks of his "flat world" inevitability. How about those countries who have yet been unable to jump onto the globalization bandwagon (for ex., swathes of Africa)? Oh, the world exists only of the United States, India, China and Bangladesh. I see. Am I really supposed to swallow the line that outsourcing American accounting to Indian accountants is good for everyone because now Indian accountants can stay in India and be employed (the fact that the Indian wage is a fraction of the American wage is discussed no further by Friedman other than as a statement of fact) while the American accountant can exercise his true talents of more complicated accounting (ie., rather than just straightening out Friedman's taxes once a year, he can sit down with Friedman and figure out how to best shelter Friedman's income from taxes). How about paying a bit of lip service to the other side of the coin? Isn't that what journalism should be about??? No, Friedman has already written off anyone who doesn't see globalization as the future. And that's just lazy writing, as far as I'm concerned.

If anyone knows a good book on globalization, please let me know. But this sure ain't it. Keep your $17 (what I wasted on it).

* OK, I'm sure Da Vinci's Code is a good book and shouldn't be tossed in with Danielle Steele. But it's just disgustingly everywhere!!!

1 comment:

Mark Reynolds said...

Hey, I never read over here enough. Let me hasten to assure you that the Da Vinci Code is not a good book. It is a very, very un-good book. Doubleplus un-good. I won't hijack your post to say why, but let me just say the shade of red that rises before my eyes at the mention of Dan Brown is of a deeper and more scarlet hue than that which obscures my vision at the thought of Ondaatje (I'm also avoiding commenting on your English Patient posting, except to say that In the Skin of a Lion did nothing for me either).