Below is a copy of a review I posted to AllConsuming of Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. I picked the book up in CD form at the local library because I wanted something to listen to on my commute while waiting for the next installment of The Story of Philosophy to arrive from SimplyAudioBooks. It was one of the few non-fiction audiobooks they had, and Friedman was on my list of authors to check out. I had frequently seen his bestselling books featured prominently at the bookstore, and the reviews I’d read spoke positively of them. So I checked it out expecting a good, educational read.
I only got partway through this book before disappointedly returning it to the library. The premise, is decent, I guess; it’s a book about how technology and circumstances have conspired to “flatten” the world, such that individuals anywhere in the world have an unprecedented ability to communicate, collaborate, and trade with other individuals and with corporations on a relatively equal footing.
My problem with this book is twofold. First of all, as an under-30 software engineer working in the 21st century, most of the “revelations” Friedman presents were blatantly obvious to me. Of course you can collaborate with anyone, anywhere, on practically any project. Of course work performed is becoming more and more disconnected from the location where it is accomplished. Of course Open-Source software has changed the topography of the software industry. Is this news to anyone?
My guess is that it is. It certainly was to Friedman: he titles one of the earlier chapters “While I was Sleeping”. And his wording suggests to me that he is writing more for the benefit of older executives, who need the new, flattened world explained to them in small words. For me, though, it was a succession of tediously drawn-out expositions of painfully obvious modern truths.
And this brings me to the second flaw: this book badly needed an editor with a strong hand. It is at least twice as long as it needs to be. It’s redundant: characters are introduced multiple times. And it’s needlessly detailed. For instance, Friedman spends several paragraphs explaining the inner workings of fiber-optic data communications, which could have easily been summed up in a phrase (“fiber-optic cable, which uses light instead of electricity to transmit data…”). Friedman is no Neal Stephenson; he doesn’t have the knack for making technical descriptions riveting. And in a book that’s more about the implications of technology than the underpinnings, these lengthy, mind-numbingly dull digressions are out of place.
This book is not without insights, and for a busy executive struggling to keep up with the information age, it could be a real eye-opener. Unfortunately, such an executive would never have the time to read it.