Review: “The World is Flat”

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.

The World Is Flat [Updated and Expanded]: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century on All Consuming

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.

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  1. You…

    know too much… especially in this field…

    Example–If I asked 2/3’s of the people I know how exactly how fiber optic cable works, they probably couldn’t really tell me…

    Go read “Collapse”… It’s not nearly as negative as you might think it is and very much has a core mesage of “Yo.. stop taking the easy way out and take responsibility for your actions.. you can do it!”

    In any case.. I got the gist of his book in the columns he constantly writes… so I didn’t figure I really needed to read a 400 page version of them… 😉

  2. the world is flat

    The world is flat, and I have sailed off the edge.
    Into oblivion, Into insanity-the world is flat-the end of humanity.
    The sky grows dark, The moon turns red, the plague of locust infest my head.
    Famine and war are upon their horses, Bringing death to mankind.
    Corruption and greed have sown the seed.
    The reaper shall come, Apocalypse begun,
    The end has drawn nigh.

    Twilight’s befallen mankind
    The stars have grown dim-
    The world has stopped its spinning and is balanced on the rim.
    The great wall has turned to rubble, The pyramids to dust,
    M’sera Liberty has fallen, Replaced by greed and lust.

  3. Perhaps you need to buy this thing I saw once where for busy business people this company takes books and makes them into s twenty minute read synopsis.

  4. World is Flat

    Watch the 13-minute web presentation at

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