Posted on Aug 31, 2015 in Non-fiction

by Thomas L. Friedman
Farrar, Staus and Giroux, 2005

Each year, our family chooses and reads a book to discuss at our annual “retreat.” As we have a family business many of the books have been on leadership skills and business management. This year, my son-in-law recommended that we read The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman.

The book is about business — global business — to be sure. But there are world view issues at stake too. We are now, more than eve, global citizens. And though we rightly lament the loss of jobs in our own country and wonder what will happen to our solid middle class — we have poor neighbors who are seeing hope for a better future because of economic globalization.

I’ve been told that it might be better to read Friedman’s prior book The Lexus and the Olive Tree first, as there he lays out more succinctly his concept of globalization and the world views that tug at those of us moving into the rest of the 21st century. But the World is Flat is a “now” kind of book — full of references to 9/11 and more current economic and political affairs. If you don’t have time for both — I’d choose to tackle this one.

And “tackle” is the right word. It is a long book, almost 500 pages. And do I wonder if some of the length is due to the fact that Friedman is a journalist (he writes regularly for the Op/Ed page of the New York Times.) As a journalist Friedman collects lots of facts, scribbled in little black notebooks or logged onto his laptop. But unlike scholars — who also research and collect innumerable facts — he doesn’t opt for footnotes even in the book length reporting that he does.

Consequently we get a superabundance of information. As when, for example, he tracks the production of his Dell computer, noting not only the outsourced locations through which his particular computer has passed, but all the others through which it could have passed but didn’t!

On the other hand — because he is a journalist — he knows how to communicate. My daughter (who turns 30 this year) likes the way he refers to the global economic transformations as 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 — using computer update lingo to make his point.

He uses analogies and metaphors that make reading easy and pleasurable (and you learn to skim the paragraphs of facts that you don’t find enthralling.)

If you don’t want to read the entire book, read at least Chapter Two, his “Ten Forces that Flattened the World.” He’s on to something here. It’s a fascinating look over our shoulders at quirky, serendipitous happenings that have shrunk the world to the size of a neighborhood:

Global Crossings lays fiber optics across the ocean and then goes bankrupt, leaving intact cheap global communication. The dot-com bubble bursts, sending thousands of skilled, highly technologically educated Indians back home to India. Then comes the fledging economic recovery and the new (chastened) venture capitalists remember “Veejay from the tech department” and contract with him to do what he once did in the States from an office in India — at a fraction of the cost. Outsourcing, Open-sourcing, Offshoring…it’s all there.

You’ll want to read Chapter Six as well — “The Untouchables” — which has nothing to do with India’s caste system, but with how to keep our own jobs “Untouchable.” It’s all about making sure we are specialized, anchored and adaptable says Friedman. Critical information here for those of us who need to hold our jobs, and for our children as they make education and career choices.

And check out the interview with Thomas Friedman on The Diane Rehm Show at wamu.org/programs/dr. You can listen to it on-line or order a CD or cassette. It will be listed in the archives — 4/21/05.