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The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization [Paperback]

Thomas L. Friedman
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (324 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 2 2000
From one of our most perceptive commentators and winner of the National Book Award, a comprehensive look at the new world of globalization, the international system that, more than anything else, is shaping world affairs today.

As the Foreign Affairs columnist for The New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman has traveled the globe, interviewing people from all walks of contemporary life: Brazilian peasants in the Amazon rain forest, new entrepreneurs in Indonesia, Islamic students in Teheran, and the financial wizards on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley.

Now Friedman has drawn on his years on the road to produce an engrossing and original look at globalization. Globalization, he argues, is not just a phenomenon and not just a passing trend. It is the international system that replaced the Cold War system; the new, well-greased, interconnected system: Globalization is the integration of capital, technology, and information across national borders, in a way that is creating a single global market and, to some degreee, a global village. Simply put, one can't possibly understand the morning news or one's own investments without some grasp of the system. Just one example: During the Cold War, we reached for the hot line between the White House and the Kremlin--a symbol that we were all divided but at least the two superpowers were in charge. In the era of globalization, we reach for the Internet--a symbol that we are all connected but nobody is totally in charge.

With vivid stories and a set of original terms and concepts, Friedman offers readers remarkable access to his unique understanding of this new world order, and shows us how to see this new system. He dramatizes the conflict of "the Lexus and the olive tree"--the tension between the globalization system and ancient forces of culture, geography, tradition, and community. He also details the powerful backlash that globalization produces among those who feel brutalized by it, and he spells out what we all need to do to keep the system in balance. Finding the proper balance between the Lexus and the olive tree is the great drama of he globalization era, and the ultimate theme of Friedman's challenging, provocative book--essential reading for all who care about how the world really works.

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From Amazon

One day in 1992, Thomas Friedman toured a Lexus factory in Japan and marveled at the robots that put the luxury cars together. That evening, as he ate sushi on a Japanese bullet train, he read a story about yet another Middle East squabble between Palestinians and Israelis. And it hit him: Half the world was lusting after those Lexuses, or at least the brilliant technology that made them possible, and the other half was fighting over who owned which olive tree.

Friedman, the well-traveled New York Times foreign-affairs columnist, peppers The Lexus and the Olive Tree with stories that illustrate his central theme: that globalization--the Lexus--is the central organizing principle of the post-cold war world, even though many individuals and nations resist by holding onto what has traditionally mattered to them--the olive tree.

Problem is, few of us understand what exactly globalization means. As Friedman sees it, the concept, at first glance, is all about American hegemony, about Disneyfication of all corners of the earth. But the reality, thank goodness, is far more complex than that, involving international relations, global markets, and the rise of the power of individuals (Bill Gates, Osama Bin Laden) relative to the power of nations.

No one knows how all this will shake out, but The Lexus and the Olive Tree is as good an overview of this sometimes brave, sometimes fearful new world as you'll find. --Lou Schuler --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

A brilliant guidebook to the new world of ``globalization'' by Pulitzer-winning New York Times columnist Friedman (From Beirut to Jerusalem, 1988). Like El Nio, globalization is blamed for anything and everything, but few understand just what it really is. In simplest terms, Friedman defines globalization as the world integration of finance markets, nation states, and technologies within a free- market capitalism on a scale never before experienced. Driving it all is what he calls the Electronic Herd, the faceless buyers and sellers of stocks, bonds, and currencies, and multinational corporations investing wherever and whenever the best opportunity presents itself. It is a pitiless systemrichly rewarding winners, harshly punishing losersbut contradictory as well. For nations and individuals willing to take the risk, globalization offers untold opportunity, yet in the process, as the Electronic Herd scavenges the world like locusts in the search for profit, globalization threatens to destroy both cultural heterogeneity and environmental diversity. The human drive for enrichment (the Lexus) confronts the human need for identity and community (the olive tree). The success of globalization, Friedman contends, depends on how well these goals can be satisfied at one and the same time. He believes they can be, but dangers abound. If nation states sacrifice too much of their identity to the dictates of the Electronic Herd, a backlash, a nihilistic rejection of globalization, can occur. If nation states ignore these dictates, they face impoverishment; there simply is no other game in town. Friedmans discussion is wonderfully accessible, clarifying the complex with enlightening stories that simplify but are never simplistic. There are flaws, to be sure. He is perhaps overly optimistic on the ability of the market forces of globalization to correct their own excesses, such as environmental degradation. Overall, though, he avoids the Panglossian overtones that mar so much of the literature on globalization. Artful and opinionated, complex and cantankerous; simply the best book yet written on globalization. (First printing 100,000) (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Drama Of The Globalization Era April 27 2003
The Lexus And The Olive Tree was recommended to me by my Economics teacher. After reading it I can see why she thought I should use this book for my assignment. It is about Thomas L. Friedman's original look on the new international system. This new system is known as globilization and it has replaced, as Friedman would call it, "the Cold War system." Globalization has changed how we invest, our technology, and ways of communication while shaping world affairs today.
Friedman uses the conflict of "the Lexus and the olive tree" to help explain the concepts of globalization verse ancient forces of tradition. The olive tree represents everything that roots us, like family, community, religion, or a place called home. The Lexus represents all the financial institutions and computer technologies found in the global market today.
I enjoyed reading this book because it gave me a better understanding of globalization. Something that I had never really heard of before reading it. Friedman did a very good job of showing the advantages and disadvantages of this new international system. His vivid stories helped explain a lot of what he was trying to tell the reader. There still was some things that I didn't understand completely. This is just because I'm new at this economics thing, and I didn't know a lot about the history behind some of his concepts.
After reading this book I feel that America homogenizes countries too much. And we do it for our own needs. We do it to make them more accessible to us so we can use their resources. This is just my opinion on the whole thing after reading the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Shallow and outdated post 9-11 April 3 2004
This work provides a general understanding of the drivers behind globalization, but Friedman often leaves concepts in mid-air without closure. And for that reason much of the book seems like speculation or 'best guess as to why' Q&A.
Friedman's admiration for Enron will make you giggle and the little attention he gives to terrorism as a backlash to globalization weakens the entire work.
Perhaps so much has changed since 9/11/01, its outdated that quickly.
I would recommend it for high school students as an intro to the topic.
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The Lexus and the Olive Tree is an important book, but in many ways Thomas Friedman renders his own creation irrelevant. He is almost schizophrenic in his writing style, arguing with himself as if he has yet to make up his mind about the things he is writing. In some ways, it seems like he just prefers to share anecdotes (which are vivid and usually humorous) from his travels around the world, rather than the typical kinds of fact-based research one finds in these sort of books. The result is that the reader can understand some of the concepts, but they can also get a little tedious, and it is hard to translate the anecdotes into something that I assimilate into my worldview.
Furthermore, Friedman seems to love to quote people at length, but one wonders if indeed he is quoting word-for-word, or if he is just sort of crafting something to fit his book out of a vaguely similar comment the person may have made. But, then one thinks again, because the book is almost a little choppy in places because Friedman quotes random characters from all around the world for pages upon pages. One would prefer that he just paraphrase or use shorter quotes.
Because it was written 5 years ago, some of the reading is tedious (he explains what a DVD player is, for example), and in some areas he seems to be caught up in the "irrational" dot-com whirlwind. In his revised version of the book, it sort of just drones on, pontificating for about 20-30 pages too much. Thomas Friedman is a very personable guy, and he has a lot of interesting things to say about the world, but honestly, one doesn't care for his own political/religious philosophy being injected, mostly toward the end of the book. It was just awkward to read through the final chapter or two; the book has multiple personality disorder in some regards.
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Friedman's book "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" is an excellent illustration of basic globalization principles and strategies, told in simple and easy language for the layman's point of view. The heavy use of anecdotal evidence also lends a comfortable "storytelling" perspective that generally keeps the reader's attention focused.
One of the things that interested me about this book was Friedman's attempted placement of his work alongside other authors on similar subjects. In the introduction, he plainly states that his purpose in writing this book is not only to fully explain the concept, analysis, and anecdotal evidence of globalization, but also to add to the body of knowledge that is shaping and defining the post-Cold War era in history. Citing other seminal works that have been described as groundbreaking descriptions of this time in history, he lists 3 other books that he hopes to complement on that very subject: "The End of History and the Last Man" by Francis Fukuyama, "The Clash of Civilizations" by Samuel Huntington, and the collected works (books and articles) of Robert Kaplan. In truth, I have recently read all 3 of these selections and can honestly agree that Friedman has successfully accomplished his goal.
For the most part, I already understood globalization (and how it ties in with the greater subject of economics and capitalism) so I thought I might get bored with his tedious simplification and excessive detail... but surprisingly, I found this not to be the case. Overall, I found Friedman to definitely be an expert on the subject, which is often rare for newspaper journalists - and especially the NY Times foreign affairs correspondent who covers the entire planet.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The Lexus and the Olive Tree
I found this a great book as an introduction to the subject. For me, much of the material was new, and the perspective was one which I had not much familiarity with. Read more
Published 22 months ago by glen cochrane
4.0 out of 5 stars Globalization - It's a GOOD THING...
Finally a book that describes the era of globalization and development of free market economies in a way that promotes the good side of the equation! Read more
Published on Oct. 26 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Basic, almost insulting.
In the book friedman describes several interesting points ranging from the trade offs of culture and capitalism, to the basic efficiencies of different economies, though the way he... Read more
Published on June 17 2004 by Rob Rob
4.0 out of 5 stars Post 9/11
You need to read 'Longitudes and Attitudes' along with 'the Lexus & Olive Tree' to understand what's changed. Further, read his columns in the NYTimes. Read more
Published on May 28 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars An Opinion of Globalization for Beginners
As a high school student who does not know very much about globalization or surrounding topics, this was a good book to introduce this subject to me. Read more
Published on April 27 2004 by Jennie
4.0 out of 5 stars To the Average highschooler
I had trouble keeping my attention while reading the book. The subject didn't grab me and I am not being a great reader to begin with struggled with its long stories. Read more
Published on April 19 2004 by Alex Houlton
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Introduction to Globalisation, but a little pro market
An easy and pleasant introduction to the topic of globalisation. I found myself not being able to put it down at times. Read more
Published on March 24 2004 by Mr Justin T Hume
4.0 out of 5 stars A well written account of Freidman's pro-globalization views
Freidman's "Lexus" was written at the height of the globalization trend and before 9/11. As such it's a good snapshot of the ideals that drove globalization and a decent primer on... Read more
Published on March 15 2004 by Virgil
5.0 out of 5 stars MUST READ to understand the modern global economy
Friedman uses wonderful symbols to explain complex trends in the global economy. The "golden straight-jacket" the "electronic herd" etc., etc.. Read more
Published on Feb. 29 2004 by Srabalais
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
He does an outstanding job of bringing together the basic drivers of today's economy: technology, finance and information. Read more
Published on Feb. 8 2004
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