three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
17-July-Aug-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-WorldIsFlatThree-time Pulitzer Prize winner Friedman cut his teeth in Beirut and Jerusalem in the 1980s as a bureau chief for The New York Times in Beirut and Israel. Since 1995, after posts as the Times’s chief diplomatic correspondent and White House correspondent, he’s been the paper’s foreign affairs columnist—and an unabashed enthusiast for globalization. In his latest book, Friedman claims we’re entering a new era—Globalization 3.0. It dawned on him in India, where a Bangalore entrepreneur informed him that communications technology was leveling the playing field between individual American and Indian competitors. "My God," Friedman exclaimed, "He’s telling me the world is flat!" The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, out-sourcing, Netscape’s 1995 IPO, open-source software, and mobile personal technologies, among other factors, produced this "flatness." In Globalization 3.0, the Web-enabled sharing of work and knowledge allows individuals, regardless of geography, to compete and collaborate on an unprecedented scale. (Friedman defines eras this way: Globalization 1.0, which started with Columbus, involved the globalization of countries; 2.0, beginning after World War II, was driven by multinational companies. Both centered on Europe and America.) The "flat world" brings greater rewards for more people everywhere and "has made us all next-door neighbors," Friedman writes. Yet those who don’t collaborate will lose out and great challenges persist, including alleviating inevitable tensions among governments, companies, and individuals. Friedman’s advice to his own daughters? "Girls, finish your homework—people in China and India are starving for your jobs."
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 488 pages. $27.50. ISBN: 0374292884

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"One of the underlying questions of Friedman’s hypothesis is whether or not the world has gotten too small and fast for people and political systems to adjust quickly to a calamity. … He’s acknowledging that issues such as intellectual property rights, global governance, wages, retraining, human rights, changing political alliances, and more need to be thought through and resolved." Michael Langan

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Friedman is more of an optimist than Marx and many other ‘technological determinists.’ … This book is really a manual, or an idiot’s guide to surviving in the computer age." Clayton Jones

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The opening third of Friedman’s book is its most lively and generally interesting section, surveying a wide range of such ‘collaborations.’ … Friedman is on thinner ice as he moves from describing the new information economy to analyzing its uneven effects and suggesting responses." Lawrence R. Jacobs

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Friedman has a flair for business reporting and finds amusing stories ... that relate to his basic theme. … He ends up, wisely, understanding that there’s no way to stop the wave. You cannot switch off these forces except at great cost to your own economic well-being." Fareed Zakaria

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Friedman offers an engrossing tour of Flat World, but he sometimes overestimates its novelty. … We’ve no real idea how the 21st century’s history will unfold, but this terrifically stimulating book will certainly inspire readers to start thinking it all through." Warren Bass

Oregonian 3 of 5 Stars
"Friedman has wonderful stories to tell—about Third World startups, Web journalists launching with $200 of equipment and breaking stories of national impact, a 17-year-old confined to a wheelchair by severe cerebral palsy while becoming an eBay entrepreneur—but how he connects these dots is less persuasive." David Loftus

Economist 1 of 5 Stars
"If anyone should be able to explain the many complicated political, economic and social issues connected to the phenomenon of globalisation, it should be him. What a surprise, then, that his latest book is such a dreary failure. … He shows his readers no mercy, proceeding to flog this inaccurate and empty image [of ‘flatness’] to death over hundreds of pages."

Critical Summary

Friedman, nominally a liberal, has historically taken the middle path and supported laissez-faire capitalism, globalization, and the power of institutions like the International Monetary Fund. Ever optimistic about globalization, he pleases its proponents and disappoints its detractors in The World Is Flat. There’s no doubt that Friedman asks timely questions, even if he sometimes shirks definitive answers. Although he acknowledges terrorism’s global weight, he identifies an even more potent force shaping global economics and politics: the "triple convergence—of new players, on a new playing field, developing new processes … for horizontal collaboration," particularly in China and India. Friedman’s story comes alive as we meet the movers and shakers of Globalization 3.0, eavesdrop on Friedman’s interviews, and witness collaborations in progress. Friedman’s personal journey, if slightly padded, makes for entertaining and accessible reading. Yet critics, even those who support globalization, differed on Friedman’s thesis; India, for example, has not yet become the global superpower he describes; many scholars still describe the "flat world" as a nicer name for "cheap labor." Friedman also less effectively analyzes the effects of Globalization 3.0 than its players, and embraces technological determinism at the expense of thoroughly considering major political factors (like terrorist networks, which he’s previously compared to World War III). No matter your stance on the benefits or pitfalls of globalization, The World Is Flat is an important, thought-provoking book—even if Friedman’s answer to unresolved issues is, "Sort that out."