The World is Flat, Release 3.0

Cover of V3Ever since it was published in hardback, a couple of years ago, I’ve been thinking that I should read The World is Flat. There were always several books about which I felt more enthusiastic. Then, last week, I bought it. This was partly due to the delay in a US Airways flight out of Boston Logan, and to the rather limited choice of reading matter available for sale in the terminal.

But the main prompt to purchase was the new edition of The World Is Flat. It’s the further revised and expanded version, it’s Release 3.0, it’s the (first) paperback, it’s 660 pages. If Thomas Friedman can keep writing the thing, I thought, I may as well read it before he gets near the thousand-page mark.

I’m glad I did. I admire the amount of travel and listening and work that Friedman has put into the book. He has a knack for anecdote. He has a liking for imagery, and most of his images work well. Here’s an example, illustrating the importance of technical standards. “Imagine a city where every neighorhood had a different interface for connecting the fire hose to the hydrant.”

Globalization is, literally, a large and far-reaching topic. In writing a book on globalization including prescription, as well as description, does Friedman overreach? He is aware of the danger of doing so when discussing education, telling us that “I am not an educator” and that he doesn’t want to “be utterly presumptuous.”

But, in discussing “intellectual property,” Friedman doesn’t appear to have any such qualms. Intellectual property itself is at best a highly loaded term. The person who sounds like the voice of reason in Friedman’s account is Sam Palmisano of IBM; his quote (p. 254) is misleading as to the purpose of IP laws, and in a manner very much favoring patent-holders such as IBM.

For overreaching like this, and for other reasons, I don’t think that The World Is Flat deserves some of the more extravagant praise heaped on it. In particular, it’s not a great book. It’s not even the book I’d recommend to someone looking for a journalist-written account of globalization: that would be A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Promise of Globalization.

But it’s a book that a lot of people have read, and are talking and writing about. It’s on an important subject. And, in a world of thumbs up or down, I have to give it a thumb up.

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