In his 1999 book, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” New York Times foreign-affairs columnist Thomas Friedman introduced many to the phenomenon of globalization. In his most recent work, “The World is Flat,” he blows readers away with an account of just how far globalization has progressed. Writing with the excitement and incredulity of an explorer who can’t believe what he has found, Friedman takes his readers around the planet with revealing personal anecdotes about how technology has flattened the world by connecting billions of people on an unprecedented scale.

In many ways, “The World is Flat” is an update of “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” explaining what has happened in the past six years. The main argument of the book is that globalization, driven by remarkable advances in communications and computing technology, has gone one step further. In a world connected by fiber optic cables, nations and companies will have to adapt to the phenomenon of truly global capitalism — or be left behind. An opinion columnist by profession, Friedman offers not only an explanation of why the world is flat, but what he feels countries and companies must do to survive.

Unfortunately, he spends the first 200 pages of his book going into great detail about what he sees as the ten forces that flattened the world. Too often, Friedman delves into an overly complex analysis of technical advances, such as the evolution of computer networking and communications. Instead of just analyzing how the Netscape browser made the Internet accessible to all or why it was crucial that software designers adopted universal standards allowing computers around the world to interact, Friedman showers his readers with technical acronyms. His otherwise great analysis of the flattening forces is lost in pages upon pages of technical history.

Friedman’s irritating tactic of inventing terminology (“geo-greening,” anyone?) is front and center in this book. Some invented terms, such as “the ten flatteners” and “the Triple Convergence,” are logically derived and easily understood. But others, such as “wholesale reform” and “retail reform” have nothing to do with what readers would expect from their names. Instead, as Friedman explains, wholesale reforms are top-down macroeconomic policy changes, while retail reforms are smaller changes that limit corruption, cut through bureaucracy, etc.

After one hacks through the first few hundred pages, Friedman’s book becomes gripping. His core argument is so powerful that Gov. Jennifer Granholm referred to it when explaining plans to rescue the state’s economy. Quoting Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” Friedman explains that there is no future in being ordinary. With hundreds of millions of youth in India, China and the developing world working as hard as they can to build a better world for themselves, Americans and Westerners can no longer count on having reliable, well-paid jobs — unless they devote themselves completely to learning the skills needed to compete on the global field. With fewer and fewer American students choosing to pursue advanced-engineering and applied-science degrees, Friedman suggests that America is ceding its position as a technological leader to India and China: “Scientists and engineers don’t grow on trees. They have to be educated … because, ladies and gentleman, this really is rocket science.” If one should take anything away from this book, it’s Friedman’s cautionary wake-up call: there is a “quiet crisis” brewing in America today, and nobody’s doing anything about it.

Fans of Friedman’s other books and those interested in global politics, economics or development should not hesitate to read “The World is Flat.” But, those who frequently read his column or have watched his Discovery Channel documentary, “The Other Side of Outsourcing,” should be prepared for a great deal of overlap. While not identical to his column or television program, the book clearly draws from both.

Informative and persuasive, “The World is Flat” is an intellectual book that avoids the mundane tone and numb character of an academic text. While neither perfect nor entirely original, the book is guaranteed to keep its readers interested and, more importantly, get them thinking.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.