‘The World Is Flat’ Book Summary and Review

Introduction

First, a Disclaimer: I didn’t READ The World Is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. I LISTENED to it in audio book format. That said, my concept of chapter divisions won’t be the same as everyone who read the words. Let me also say that I loved it! The author brings together a number of seemingly disparate concepts and technologies and makes them one big continuous, homogeneous whole. It was a great ride!

That said, there are some hand-written notes inside the front cover of my book. They aren’t my notes, but I’ll share one of the best here:

Teach the 4Es instead of the 3Rs
1) Expose Knowledge
2) Employ Information
3) Express Ideas Compellingly
4) Engage in Ethical Practices

Isn’t that a great list? I’ve been saying we teach the 4Rs for a while – Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic, and computeRs, but I like this list better.

Chapters One – Four

The world got flattened. Now, everyone can compete with everyone else. Natural talent now trumps geography.

I loved his comparisons of important dates like 9/11 and 11/9 although I think that is in a later chapter. It really brings home the disparity. And the metaphors used are equally fantastic. The title of the book alone is very intriguing. The first flattener is about walls and windows. What brilliance! I’m sorry, but there’s a creative writer in me that’s just loving this!

His list of flatteners could probably have been tweaked a little. I’m sure that the actual number is not 10 and that the particular 10 he included are certainly important but are not necessarily the most important. In short, he’s using literary techniques to list 10 of the most important so that they are easier to remember and have a sense of finality since we’re only counting up to 10.

Of particular interest to me is the information about Netscape. Now, being in a computer field I already knew about Netscape and the browser wars. It’s a kind of fascinating thing to follow. But I was not aware of the particulars with regard to business that Friedman points out. He connected a lot of dots and pulled in a lot of loose strings here.

All in all, the 10 flateners were impressive. Advances in software, collaboration, communication, and more. It’s a breathtaking list and, somehow, they all fit together. I wonder if the contents of this book are essential parts of the minds of the great business companies and it took Friedman to put that into words? I remember a year or so back hearing about some fantastic new book stating that nature employs fractal patterns that can be reproduced with computers. Breathtaking? Not really. Those in the sciences had known this for years. It took this writer writing about it to bring it to the knowledge of the general public. And they RAN with it! Only after reporters started getting an “Eh!” from scientists that this wasn’t news, did it drop.

That’s a problem I have with society in general. It seems a pervasive problem particularly in the US. It’s that people are not scientifically minded and don’t recognize how that could help them or how that has benefited the US for many years. It’s our science that has helped us to rise to be the planet’s foremost nation. And we’re losing that. People today are more interested in entertainment than attainment. As Friedman wrote somewhere, in the US Britney Spears is Britney Spears. In China, Bill Gates is Britney Spears.

Moving right along we come to the Triple Convergence. Now, I think Friedman could’ve organized this better since technically the first convergence is the combining of the 10 flateners but I digress. It’s still a very effective presentation of the content. Also, unlike most writers who introduce a concept and then stop, Friedman has gone to the next step. He introduced these new concepts and then showed how they came together. That’s a whole additional level off observation and thinking! No wonder this book was on the national bestseller list!

I don’t know how to summarize chapter four. It’s really an extension of the triple convergence in chapter 3. Friedman talks about how these flateners are going to reshape wealth, knowledge, everything. I must confess I did not get much out of the book at this point.

Chapters Five – Eight

Arguably, Part II of the book begins with chapter 5. And it’s a very important chapter for the average American because it deals with the current free trade crisis. Many Americans are upset over Homeland Security, open borders, NAFTA, and other related issues. Freidman published his book in 2004 so he was unaware of how these issues would morph recently in light of the presidential election.

That said, I must say that I was against NAFTA and free trade in general until I read his book. I wasn’t an extremist or anything, I just thought that we should protect our American jobs. I had no idea what was happening! I think Friedman is correct in saying that no one can stop free trade without great damage to our country and for that reason, I think he is correct in saying we must march on.

Chapter 6 on the untouchables was a great comparison. The Indian untouchables are heartbreaking and it’s good to see what technology can do for them. It is equally sad that the generations currently living will not likely get the benefits of the flat world but I suppose that is one of those family things. Parents always want better for their children and can live with less if their children have more.

Chapter 7 on the quiet crisis was disturbing. I’ve known we had problems for years. As a teacher, I unfortunately see it every day. My students by and large are not interested in learning anything that we have to teach them. They want their cell phones, their entertainment, their music, and for us to leave them alone. They haven’t got a clue! And in light of this book, they haven’t got a chance for a good life either! AND THEY DON’T CARE! It is one of the hardest things to try to teach a student to care.

I tried to instill caring in my students this semester like I usually do. With my first period, I ran smack into a brick wall called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Many of my students were not getting enough sleep at night, some had family problems, and none of them really cared to learn the material or put forth any additional effort. After Spring Break (and it came early this year) the students all got Senioritis and more or less decided to quit doing any work. Working through that has been a challenge to say the least and I have not always been nice with them. And at least one of them keeps complaining to a parent who calls my principal to have a chat with me. <sigh> Of course, it’s never about how their child can learn the material better. And the only thing related to my principal are my faults. None of my motivations or positives are related. At least my principal does understand and he’s gentle with me. I don’t think I could continue teaching with a hard-liner for a principal.

Chapter 8 concludes what I have dubbed part II. “This Is Not A Test” does seem to describe the problems we’re facing in America. This is for real and we need to take these challenges seriously. Now, if only Friedman had included a list of strategies to use with a predominantly rural, manufacturing background population in western North Carolina we’d be all set.

Chapters Nine – Thirteen

I really did read this book. Or rather, I really did finish listening to the audio book version. A lot of the material in this last part really didn’t apply to me, but I heard it and got a lesson in global economics at the same time.

What a cool title for chapter 9! And what a good illustration of the extent of the challenge. If we in America are upset that the Mexicans have been taking our job, we should be alarmed that the Mexicans are now losing their jobs to the Chinese!

Chapter 10 on coping companies was sad. It almost makes me want to go into a business that can’t be outsources like fast food. The sad thing is, when presented with these challenges many of my students would just accept things and work at McDonald’s for the next 50 years. It’s like a blanket PLAGUE! There is no inspiration! No energy! No interest for the things that really matter! It’s like every student has poverty syndrome and there’s no way to knock it out of them and make them wake up, shape up, and do what needs to be done.

Chapter 11 was the most revealing chapter of all. I’m glad Friedman wrote this book and I hope has been translated into the Arabic languages and widely distributed. He explained more about the motivations of Osama bin Laden in one chapter than I had amassed watching the Iraq war unfold on CNN for SEVEN YEARS. That’s sad. Why wasn’t CNN telling us what he told us?

Chapter 12 seemed out of place somehow. It was an illustration, yes, of this process but that was best explained back in chapters 3 and 4. This chapter probably should have gone there. Nonetheless, it was kind of interesting (and boring) to listen to where all the parts for his computer came from. It reminded me of reading the genealogies in Leviticus and Numbers in the bible. (There is a little gem in there, though, called the Prayer of Jabez – look it up!) Anyway, it showed how the economics have a stabilizing factor on political systems. And that will be, I think, by and large a good thing.

Although, if America is currently losing out because we’ve grown complacent what will happen to China, India, and the rest of the world in the future when they are all like us? Won’t they become complacent too?

Lucky #13 was a great place to finish. (Although, as I said, chapter 12 doesn’t fit where it’s at and this chapter would fit perfectly after chapter 11.) It was a challenge to the reader to choose wisely. I liked that. Friedman clearly has a strong belief system beneath his writing. He is concerned about the US. And he has children. I’m about to be a father and I could almost hear what he was saying about the future. Am I happy about some of these things that have happened? No, of course not, but I can’t change them.

I consider my as yet unborn daughter to be a gift from God and He doesn’t make mistakes. Since He has blessed Rebecca and I with a child I’ve had a lot of time to do a lot of thinking. Have you heard the saying that a new baby is God’s way of telling us that life should go on? Well, I kind of internalized that in this last chapter. I’m not exactly overjoyed about what I foresee the future holding, but I am calm about it. I trust that God has made a good decision. Now, the ball is in my court and I choose to be the best father I can be and help guide my daughter as she grows up into what she will become. I’m looking forward to it.

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6 responses to “‘The World Is Flat’ Book Summary and Review

  1. Thanks for summarizing this book. I read it awhile ago and thought about how applicable it is to church planting and it has actually helped me to form some of my views on church. It’s good to have a summary to refresh my memory.

  2. You’re welcome although I can’t take full credit. It was a graduate school assignment. I figured since it was already written that it should be posted as well. I’m glad you were able to make use of it.

  3. I’ve read this book numerous times, and find the urge to look things up in it daily.

    I’ve had the book for a few years now, and it’s views on today’s society is extremely accurate, being published in 05.

  4. I don’t know If I said it already but …Cool site, love the info. I do a lot of research online on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, :)

    A definite great read….

  5. Bob Schepers

    This was a huge help to me trying to better understand this book! Thank you!

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