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on January 9, 2007
If you've been on a space station for the past 6 years, or -- as I have been -- living (& pre-occupied with renovating an old house) in the rural south-east "toe" of New Brunswick where nobody reads anything & the topics of conversation are the collapse of the cod fishery and the price of lumber, this book would be a revelation, as indeed it was for me. I had no idea of the extent of change since I retired from the world of business in 2000. I was greatly impressed by what this book had to say.

But...6 months have passed, I cancelled "Time" & got a subscription to "The Economist" & have been reading more widely & Friedman's book begins to seem more superficial & less brilliant.

I have usually avoided best-sellers because my experience has been that any book which appeals to the least commmon demoninator must be simplistic, glib & trendy. While "The World is Flat" is all of the above, it was interesting and useful to me in my state of ignorance about the early 21st century Global Economy. But it is certainly not the last or best word on the subject.
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The World Is Flat is an easy, if long, read about the nature of global competition among countries, companies and individuals as circumstances stood in 2004.

Let me describe his key points. Mr. Friedman begins by describing ten forces that were powerful in creating today's extreme business competition on a global scale (the fall of the Berlin Wall, advances in computer communications and software, reductions in cost to connect organizations together by computer-directed instructions, new ways of partnering and the rise of portable, real-time information access over the Internet). He then describes a triple convergence that has accelerated change: World-wide, real-time, flexible collaboration that allows more horizontal ways to provide value; companies learning how to use the new technologies to create new types of organizations, services and structures; and the entry of several billion new people into global business competition.

Mr. Friedman goes on to describe the implications of the 2004 world for the future. He sees a need for more education, greater specialization, learning new skills and moving up the ladder of adding more value . . . or a job, a company or a country will see its position degraded or even replaced by a more effective competitor elsewhere. For the United States, he sees a "quiet crisis" as other nations outrace its citizens for advanced education and work harder to compete. Today's lead can soon become tomorrow's obsolescence. In the meantime, consumers will benefit from cheaper imported goods and offshore services.

For developing countries, the challenge is greater. They were behind to start with. Mexico finds itself being displaced by China in serving the U.S. market, even though Mexico is right next door. The key task is to free local entrepreneurs to operate efficiently and to put good infrastructure and education in place.

In geopolitics, much focus will turn to a fight over raw materials as developing nations add great needs for energy and the minerals and food needed to urbanize and industrialize. He also sees severe environmental problems ahead.

The Muslim world is mostly seen as being left out . . . and becoming resentful . . . leading to more terrorism.

Mr. Friedman also encourages companies and countries to find ways to open up this new world to the 3 billion poorest people.

At the end, he describes a world of unbounded opportunity if we only have enough imagination to create a better future.

Mr. Friedman is a good writer, a confessed humanist and a great teller of anecdotes. He traveled to many of the places he wrote about in the book which gives his story depth, color and texture. It also makes his messages more compelling and interesting.

The book has three flaws that will bother many people.

First, his points about global business competition are not new in any way. So this book will be largely a waste of time for those who have been following this development for some time. As a result, this book will be of most value to those who are new to the subject.

Second, his central metaphor of a flat world doesn't really work. Mr. Friedman is arguing that we have a level global playing field except for some minor advantages that already exist (location, raw materials such as oil, education levels, computer and communications access, and knowledge of languages). If he had called the book "The Playing Field Is Level," that metaphor would have worked. He is also arguing that communications place us in great proximity to one another and that trend is continuing. From that observation, it's possible to see the world as a concave bowl with ever rising sides causing all of us to slide closer together at the bottom. "The World Is a Concave Bowl with Rising Sides" isn't much of a book title, so I can see why he avoided that metaphor. Nevertheless, the title metaphor is wrong and it's annoying to have to read so much about it throughout the book. I also found the cover illustration to be annoying for this reason. The world he is describing is one where sailing ships will founder because they cannot survive pitched battles with other sailing ships that have better guns and maneuverability . . . not one where some people are falling off the end of the earth. It's a great illustration . . . but for another book.

Third, many of his solutions are more rhetorical than real. Mr. Friedman would have done better to seek out those who have created major solutions to difficult problems (such as the Grameen Bank in creating entrepreneurs among the impoverished) rather than to describe little experiments that companies have done. But the rhetoric will encourage you to think about what he has to say . . . and perhaps your imagination will be stimulated to see new ways you can contribute. If so, that would be good.

Find new ways to achieve old objectives! And good luck to you as you do.
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In "Slaugherhouse Five", Kurt Vonnegut introduced us to the Tralfamadoreans. These bizarre creatures said humans have a confined view of the world. It's as if we were sealed in a container, looking at the world down a long, narrow pipe. Thomas Friedman fits that description well in this book on how "globalisation" has developed over the past decade. Artfully portraying how large corporations are extending their reach around the globe, what he sees is intense and rewarding. What he misses is depressing and possibly calamitous. Although Friedman's sprightly style and unbounded enthusiasm is initially captiviating, a different feeling arises after you close the final page. The worst thing that can be said about this book is that everything Friedman says in it is true.
What is globalisation? Friedman sees it as technology spreading the wealth from industrialised to developing nations. Collapsing barriers, particularly "trade barriers" help promote economic development for both First and Third World countries. He proposes a ten step historical sequence of forces that promoted globalisation. These forces, in his view, enabled the spread of Western electronic technology, encouraging economic growth. From the fall of the Berlin Wall through "outsourcing" to utilise cheap labour, to wireless communication, these forces converged to give us a true "global village". It's more than widening the labour pool. Friedman cheers the idea of his taxes being done in Bangalore or CAT scans taken in Cape Cod being diagnosed in Melbourne. All that concerns Friedman is that the information be turned around overnight ready for delivery the next morning. He claims that the knowledge needed in New York is goading leaps in education to provide it in places like India and China. That "education" includes language-skill classes to enable "help-desk" staff sound more "American". The staff even adopt names like "Betty" or "Rob" to convince callers that they're "right next door" instead of ten thousand kilometres away.
While plodding through the extensive list of successful ventures around the planet, largely foster-parented by highly competitive high-tech US technology firms, you discern that he's quoting the same people repeatedly. Certain figures in India loom large, but it's hard to see how many of these new entrepreneurs are actually in the global market instead of building up their domestic economy. As you encounter these big players, it's hard not to see a top-heavy, unitarian structure emerging. Although these new firms are portrayed by Friedman as uniformly service agencies, the reader can't help but wonder if more Enrons are in the making. More collapses like that, which don't have to be triggered by fraud, will bring down many affiliated or dependent companies. Friedman argues that the international arrangement of "global supply chains" is so tightly integrated now that wars between states in that complex geopolitical structure have become impossible. But it doesn't take a war to collapse an economic bubble.
Friedman argues that his "bubble" will continue to grow, but takes but the merest peek at the societies underlying the inflationary process. We learn nothing of how widespread the technological advancements in the nations he visits are. In what he supposes is a glowing example, he makes a quick jaunt to an "untouchable" village in India, visiting a school teaching English and journalism. These people have little water, no sanitation and food is scarce. Are these the future "help desk" staff? Later, he laments the "quiet crisis" in the US where science and technology education is teetering. Nearly forty per cent of NASA's technical staff, he notes, is over 50 years old. Where will the replacements come from? India, China and Japan are already advancing in space programmes - a field where heavy rocketry and miniature electronics are necessities. And two of those nations possess nuclear weapons.
Friedman's glee at dispersing high-tech services around the globe totally ignores the many costs incurred. He thinks "outsourcing" is a "good thing" for the US economy because it will drive people to secure new talents. He likes having airline tickets electronically distributed. He extols the US business leaders promoting the "flat Earth" without noting that real wages are declining, wealth is being concentrated and skilled workers remain threatened over job security. He isn't aware of environmental issues being exacerbated by some of the factors he applauds. His rosy view of the world needs serious enlargement. Perhaps he might step along the hall at the New York Times and have a chat with his colleague Paul Krugman. He might actually learn something. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on December 30, 2006
Mostly dated book on the impact of globalization. Manufacturing jobs to China, programmers and telemarketers in India, and on and on it goes. Certainly anyone who is a businessman should read this book if they didn't already know the offshoring and outsourcing effect.

Friedman's writing is decent, although at times repetitive and laborious to read.
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on September 24, 2007
This is a powerful book if somewhat flawed. It is always a treat to read well written prose and the topics he raises are important. For that reason I give this book five stars. Although the writing is first rate I was left with the feeling of that the perspective it offers is somewhat imbalanced. It certainly is a call to arms but perhaps Friedman over reaches in this manifesto and makes conclusions that do not always follow. In my opinion the "flatness" we now perceive, a seeming equality of individuals through the Internet is an illusions. The institutions which act like filters are still present and act as filters even now on the Internet. Through its evolution the Internet will more and more fall in line.
Globalization is a genie that the US in my opinion let out of the bottle. I do not see that it was an inevitability.
Further Friedman neglects to emphasize the sheer power the United States still wields in the world.

Are Y2K, the rise of China and the World Trade Center attack are all some of the most important events of this emerging century were these changes inevitable or where they the result of poor judgment of US foreign policy over the past 15 years? From my perspective many of these mistakes were made by our politician most especially in the Clinton years (despite good intentions) but there has also been a cancer that has been eating away at our society for a long while most notably in education and in our intelligence community. We have overestimated our power while trying to express a largess in a world that seems to only boil over more with anti-Americanism. We have served up hope to the third world without coming through which can only make the populations of the third world more anti-American. Certainly this is not only the fault of America as despots of the third world have made corruption into an artform and are the main impediment to alleviating world hunger. America's fault is in it's naivety. I choose to believe we have made the mess we are in now and we can change American policies if our leaders are quick and savvy enough.
Are the aforementioned events (Y2K, 9-11, the rise of China and the Internet) even connected - in my mind not necessarily. Only time can tell us. Certainly a dangerous convergence of events has occurred recently and we must adapt. The attack on 9-11 was a warning that is certain.

Another point I will take with issue with Friedman on is his pointing to the bursting of the bubble while saying that the Internet is making for a level playing field. There seems to me to be a contradiction somewhere in that - more than that the author will allow himself to admit.. We also have no way of know if indeed the Internet will level the playing field as it is something which is too new to make any conclusions about. That the Internet levels the playing field is a cliche.
There are certain contradictions to American culture in its embracing of freedom and materialism. We have seen before the triumph of Democracy over Totalitarianism during W.W.II but is it always the case? On one hand a Democracy makes easier the free exchange of ideas but on the other a Totalitarian regime like China can make great changes in a hurry as it functions with one mind. Will China receive through the Internet Democracy or will the economic power recently given to the totlitarian regime make that change impossible. That is one of the great questions for the future.

One more point I would like to make and it is this: if history has shown us anything, the world never was nor ever will be, "flat". In that way the author neglects some of the great lessons of history.
Still a very stimulating and thought provoking read.

I also recommend The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Gladwell
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on May 8, 2005
Karl Marx had predicted that capitalism would flatten the world:where it exhorts the bourgeoisie to abandon national seclusion and self-dependancy and chase for profits towards the inter-dependance of nations, leading the bourgeois to create images of themselves throught the world. Mr Friedman seems to concur wholeheartedly. He says we are now in Globalization 3.0: driven mostly by non-white, non-western individuals, because no matter what your profession, much of the work is going to be outsourced to better, cheaper producers in India and China.Most of the book focusses on the same basic point: the world is getting flatter, and the West must come to terms with the awarkening giants of China and India. As a 16 year old 11th Grader of Asian origin living in North America, I found the book strangely worrying. Though extremely readable, full of first person anecdotes and interviews, perhaps Mr. Friedman belabors the same message over and over too frequently.
Mr. Friedman's real contribution to me, however comes in the last 100 pages or so. I found his comments on the Middle-East very accurate. In their failure to "glocalize" Muslim countries are struggling even more as the world flattens. As he puts it, the curse of oil is partly accountable: countries that have no oil, or have run out of it are the first movers to democratize and hold their rulers accountable. No taxes means no accountability by the rulers, who are happy to run the status quo. Mr Friedman says that the founders of Al-Qaeda are not fundamentalists per se. He looks upon them as a political phenomenon: Islamo-Leninists with a utopian-totalitarian image of the world, caused by a "real cognitive-dissonance", spawned by the "poverty of dignity". Sami T. Ahmad.
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on January 8, 2007
Thomas Friedman has done what every best-selling journalist knows is the easiest way to sell a book and make a name for yourself: you take a complex problem and drag it through a whole host of carefully selected 'case studies' to show that it is in fact quite simple, if a bit messy around the edges.

The World is not Flat, I hate to be glib, but this statment has as much truth as an economic metaphor as it does as a geological statement.

It is not so much the Friedman makes incorrect arguments, as that he just choses not to look at what he does not want to see. Globalization is causing the tranfer of wealth around the globe, and the transfer of poverty. Yes you can golf in India at a shwank resort, you can also freeze to death on the streets of Toronto, Canada. You can be born into an upperclass family in Sri Lanka and have a life expectancy of 80 plus years or be born as an African-American male in the United States and have a life expectancy of 48.

Global indicators from the United Nations World Health Organization show that disease, poverty, and premature death are on the rise globally. Further, even the ever optomistic World Bank does not deny that the polarizaion of wealth is increasing at stagering rates, as is personal and national debt. One also aught to take a trip to George Monbiot's book "Heat: Or How to Stop the Planet From Burning" and evaluate his take on the character of the present global situation.

I will at this point come right out and admit that I am completely stunned and more than a little disheartened at the raving reviews this book is getting. Has the glitzy media presentation really succeeded in its selling of the massive theft that private corporations are wreaking on public resources? Remember, who owns the media? What are their interests? I am also amazed that someone with as little economic training as Friedman, and as little demonstration of economic thought as is present in this book, has been taken to be a sage of global economics.

Please, those of you that are going to read this book, and those of you that love it, read a real economist who deals with these issues: such as Nobel Prize winner and former World Bank advisor Joseph Stieglitz, or Nobel Prize Winner Amartya Sen. And then, read at least one social scientist on the subject, somene who is not an economist.

I must say that I do share both the author and many of the reviewers' belief that Globalization is a powerful and important force that is changing the shape of the world, but I also believe in diligent reporting, good scholarship, and the honest evaluation of the topic presented, all of which are completely lacking in this propaghanda piece.
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on November 27, 2005
This was a severe disappointment to those looking for a thoughtful, insightful book. It essentially takes the biggest headlines of the last 10 years and ... repeats them. Because he extensively quotes from his sources, he is no more or less than a cheerleader. Virtually every sentence of the book may be followed by "he said, breathlessly".
There is no original thought or synthesis to this book. For all of this book I thought to myself "well, duh", since everything he talks about is obvious. Example - we live in a globalized economy - well, duh, what do you think all those people protesting the WTO were doing?
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on March 30, 2007
This book is definitely a must read for everybody who is having a hard time of understanding the globalism and its side effects. Having read this book (2 times), I certainly have a more vivid picture of how things work in the 'flat world'.
Mr. Friedman's definition of 10 forces that helped world get flatten is very interesting and worth to read it twice to understand the connection among the forces. However, the more you read, the boring the book gets since the author repeats so many examples of same sort. Nevertheless, the book has increased my knowledge as well as my interest in terms of how things have started to work with the advent of the internet.
The read was nice and easy, even for a person like me whose first language is not English.
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on August 27, 2008
This book will most definatly help our future.
It assesses how the world is flat and what kind of collaboration will be needed for the middle class to re-align itself properly via solid education.
Most interesting quote and explanation is Passion + Creativity > IQ in this day and age.
Do not get bogged down by 1st 100 pages and what led us to today and the flattening of the world. Some of it is obvious and you may have heard. However the book is primarily about the future of our society and how you (being anyone) can be successful in it.
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