Punk's Reviews > The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century

The World Is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman
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Aug 22, 07

bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in January, 2006

Non-Fiction. Friedman explains to us, over and over, how globalization has effectively turned the world into a very very small place -- I was okay with his metaphor of a flat world at first, but over time it started to irritate me. It's neither elegant nor practical. No matter how many virtual conference rooms you have, in a flat world it's still going to take forever to get material goods moved from China to the US, unlike our current round model; later he even starts to talk about how some parts of the world are unflat, ow, my head -- but still, his point remains: digitization, miniaturization, virtualization, and personalization have conspired to make our planet very small indeed, metaphorically speaking. For the most part, Friedman has a highly romanticized view of globalization, looking at it as more of a fascinating academic theory than a real force, and only talking to people who have benefited from the rampant outsourcing and supply-chaining.

The first two thirds of this book suffer from a distinct lack of real world consequence. It's all happy anecdotes and economic theory, which isn't exactly Friedman's strong point. Because of this, it took me about six months to read, was constantly inspiring me to nap, and was just generally twice as long as it needed to be. Friedman makes up a lot of jargon -- going as far as to repurpose common words for his own oblique purposes -- and it can be difficult to remember what he's talking about at any given moment. The other problem is Friedman's scope and focus. When I read non-fiction, I like each chapter to have a thesis. Friedman prefers to wander up and down the page, make the same point several times, dump a lot of irrelevant statistics on me, and then scurry off to deliver a glancing blow to a new perspective, only to doggedly return to his original thrice-made point as if I hadn't gotten it the first two times.

But, if you can make it through all that, cold hard reality shows up in the third act and things finally get interesting. Friedman admits that only .2% of Indians are employed in the technological industry he was so happily touting just a few chapters before. He admits that the world is not entirely flat, and that it may never become fully flat due to poverty, war, or simple fear. He talks about the ramifications of a flat world, the ways it can go wrong, how terrorist networks take advantage of the same readily available work force and supply chain that Dell or Infosys does. He takes the first two thirds of the book and puts it into context. This part I read in just three days. This is the part I can use. Globalization isn't just about Americans losing jobs. It's so much bigger than that. It's about the flow of information, about vulnerability and anger, about global responsibility. Those last hundred and fifty pages were worth struggling through the first three hundred, but only highlight how The World is Flat is more mishmash than structured thesis.

This gets two stars for the first two-thirds of the book and four stars for the last third, giving it an average of three stars.
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Jim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jim The more I think about it, the more insightful this review gets.


Punk Thank you! That's such a nice thing to hear.


message 3: by Hutarch (new)

Hutarch Great review. Friedman is beloved by every over-50 dad I know -- and while I have nothing against my friends' dads at all, that should tell you something.

Friedman is a cheerleader for the free-market crowd, and, on the sentence level, one of the absolute worst writers I've ever come across.


Punk My own over-50 dad is a big Friedman fan, but he's basing a lot of his love on Friedman's older works focusing on the middle-east, not this new global market kick Friedman's found himself on.

I absolutely agree with you that the man is an awful writer.



message 5: by Jim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jim I think Friedman is too much in love with his own metaphors.


message 6: by Hutarch (new)

Hutarch Jim wrote: "I think Friedman is too much in love with his own metaphors."

Definitely! They're very grating. Matt Taibbi's scathing review captures this really well. Here it is: http://www.nypress.com/article-11419-...

The New Yorker also had a revealing profile of Friedman recently.


Brian over & over indeed. I quit early on too


Lilmonkey13 This was required reading for my AP class, and well, no one finished it. Out of the forty-two kids who were supposed to read it, well they didn't. We all muddled through the first three hundred pages or so, but all ended up quitting. Seeing that there was no way it could get any better. I feel bad that he couldn't edit and get things straight before writing the third part of the book, and that he couldn't bother to make some of his ending points in the book and not just at the end. I would have gladly finished it if I had known that it actually did have an end. However, finishing it now would be at the end. That you for giving this incite, and hopefully one day I'll go back and finish it.


Punk Lilmonkey13, if you want to give this book another try, you might consider starting at the end. It might not work—it's been a long time since I read this, and I don't remember how much that final section relies on the ones that came before it—but it could hardly be more confusing than the first two thirds of the book.


Lilmonkey13 Punk wrote: "Lilmonkey13, if you want to give this book another try, you might consider starting at the end. It might not work—it's been a long time since I read this, and I don't remember how much that final s..."

Yeah I'll hopefully get back to it, it still sits lonely in my closet, so there is always that possibility and I would have to take your advice and start from the end. Thank you!


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