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The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century    by Thomas L. Friedman order for
World is Flat
by Thomas L. Friedman
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

Thomas Friedman is a well known columnist for the New York Times and the person to turn to for answers about the U.S. economy and where it's headed. The hardcover edition of The World is Flat hit the bookshelves in April 2006, and has since gone through a second edition in hardcover, and a third in both paperback and hardcover. Friedman's excuse for updating is that the world is constantly changing, necessitating further chapters. Nevertheless, The World is Flat is a unique book, whether it be for a student of economics, or a person looking for answers as to why outsourcing is getting so out of control.

Friedman begins with an introduction to how he discovered that the world had become flat; noticing details here and there in his travels around the world, and then putting it all together. He then leads into ten forces that flattened the world, explaining how they came to be, what effect they had on flattening the world, and how some continue to do so. He flags two important dates: 11/9/89, which was when the Berlin Wall came down and eastern Europe and Russia joined the rest of the world once again; and 8/9/95 when Netscape first released its browser to computer owners, allowing them to surf this new thing called the Internet.

Friedman hits every important step in the way business has changed in the last three decades: from Wal-Mart's ingenuity in supply-chaining, leading to the incredible system whereby a product is purchased at a Wal-Mart store sending a message to the supplier which immediately starts making another copy of that product; to software development in its original free form with LINUX; to the light speed development of sites like MySpace, Facebook, and online blogs where everyone has a voice; to the existence of large buildings in places like Bangalore, India, housing thousands of customer service representatives helping American customers thousands of miles away with anything from credit card bills to cellphone technical questions.

With these ten factors serving as a basis for how and why the world has become flattened, Friedman takes the reader on a trip around the world, elucidating exactly why when we call for help, the chances of getting a person whose native language isn't English are incredibly high. But isn't this what America is all about? Perhaps not, when the person you are talking to is on the other side of the world, and this is somehow cheaper and better for the company you are calling than using an American citizen who might be just a few miles away.

While Friedman does have some answers, it is clear that America and the world are at a turning point, much like the beginning of the twentieth century when there was the roaring beast of industrialization, and the explosion of the assembly-line system of the Model T Ford. One can certainly expect more from Friedman in coming years, as new and inconceivable changes happen before our eyes. For now, The World is Flat is the only guidebook we have, and it does its job to a T.

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