The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman is quite a good book about the rapid change in world economics. No longer are the US and the West at the top of the hill looking down on everyone else. The world is flattening and the advantages of the West are rapidly eroding. To put it another way, everyone has an increasingly equal opportunity to succeed due to a variety of very significant technological, systems and political changes. He explains the changes by example and description.
This presents a challenge to the West to keep up as others are likely to surpass us in a variety of ways. While this will be painful for the West in the short term, if the West can adapt and respond, it will be, according to Friedman, good for the West–as well as for the rest of the world.
As an editor, what bothered me about the book was its breathless tone, especially in the first half of the book. He spoke as a true believer rather than a journalist or objective observer. Maybe he intended to do this, because he wanted as a writer to wake people up. He wanted to get their attention and convince them completely that a major change is in the works. If we don’t recognize and respond, he wants us to know that we will suffer the consequences. As a result, every change he describes is the most amazing, the most widespread, the fastest, the most dramatic. And frankly, overstating his case hurts his credibility. So editors, beware the breathless tone.
But I said this was a problem with the first half. The second half improves significantly. Friedman gets more substantive and more subtle, more penetrating in his analysis. Not everything is wonderful and amazing.
There are dark clouds on the horizon that must be dealt with. With the rapid expansion of China, India, the former Soviet bloc and elsewhere, we could see energy wars in the future. The Islamo-Leninists are holding the 1 billion people of the Muslim world hostage so they cannot enter the flat world, with potentially dire consequences. Much of the world is unflat because they are too sick and too disempowered. Even here he fails to take adequate note of the environmental issues of a world economy growing at a fantastic rate.
I read my son’s copy of the book (the first edition). And his markings also indicated the superiority of the second half of the book. He had almost nothing highlighted in the first half. The last half was full of starred sentences and underlined paragraphs. Here are some of the topics and quotes he noted:
A Chinese banker to a Mexican journalist referring to America: “First we were afraid of the wolf, then we wanted to dance with the wolf, and now we want to be the wolf.” p. 310
Why a sense of humiliation is the driving force behind terrorism. pp. 391ff
Why Arab countries produced 171 international patents between 1980 and 1999 while South Korea registered 16,328 in the same period? p. 398
Why are there no Muslim terrorists from India (the 2nd largest Muslim country in the world)? p. 456ff
The analysis Friedman provides here is especially penetrating. Would that our country’s political and business leaders might take note of these points and more that are found in this important book. It is much too important a topic to dimish with a tone that is overly enthusiastic and not as serious as the topic itself.