The World Is Flat Essay

The World Is Flat Essay

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On a modern-day passage to India, Thomas L. Friedman, the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, found himself chatting in Bangalore with a young, slight, mustachioed videogame-company CEO named Rajesh Rao. "India is going to be a superpower," Rao said, gushing about a new economic era that makes the globe into one massive marketplace, "and we are going to rule." But rule whom? Friedman asked. Rao laughed. "It's not about ruling anybody," he admitted. "That's the point. There is nobody to rule anymore."

Rao's enthusiasm about the changing rules of international commerce and politics today -- about whether there's anything left to rule in a brave new world of globalization -- underscores the virtues and vices of Friedman's captivating and sometimes frustrating new book. The World Is Flat continues the franchise Friedman has made for himself as a great explicator of and cheerleader for globalization, building upon his 1999 The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Like its predecessor, this book showcases Friedman's gift for lucid dissections of abstruse economic phenomena, his teacher's head, his preacher's heart, his genius for trend-spotting and his sometimes maddening inability to take himself out of the frame. It also shares some of the earlier volume's excitement (mirroring Rajesh Rao's) and hesitations about whether we're still living in an era dominated by old-fashioned states or in a postmodern, globalized era where states matter far less and the principal engine of change is a leveled playing field for international trade.

What complicates this further is, of course, 9/11. If the idea of globalization filled a conceptual void in the formless 1990s -- the editors of Foreign Affairs magazine wrote in 1997 that "the ov...


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...h of his flat world's complexity, and his reporting brings to vibrant life some beguiling characters and trends. If his book is marred by an exasperating reliance on the first person and a surplus of catch phrases (" 'Friedman,' I said to myself, looking at this scene, 'you are so twentieth-century. . . . You are so Globalization 2.0' "), it is also more lively, provocative and sophisticated than the overwhelming bulk of foreign policy commentary these days. 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 is a senior editor at Book World and a former member of the 9/11 Commission staff. He is the author of "Support Any Friend: Kennedy's Middle East and the Making of the U.S.-Israel Alliance," which was recently released in paperback.

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