I've now read three of Thomas Friedman's books, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, The World Is Flat, and now, Hot, Flat, and Crowded.
And Hot Flat and Crowded is--by far--the weakest book of the three. In fact, a cynic might consider it more of a brand extension than a book--a recycling of The World is Flat to include well-meaning and repetitive chapters on energy policy, the environment and global warming.
And despite his earnest and palliative writing tone, Friedman's political message has become shrill, and that shrillness debases many of the potentially intriguing ideas and arguments he makes throughout the book.
According to Friedman, everything is the Americans' fault. We're supposed to be leaders of the free world, yet we should only act with the consensus blessing of all the rest of the world's countries. We invaded Iraq, which was wrong. We invaded Afghanistan, which was sort of right, but we're making far too many mistakes there. We don't educate enough engineers. At our airports, we use metal detectors on wheelchair-bound grandmothers. Our passport control officers are aren't friendly enough.
And what if formerly poor people in countries around the world aspire to an American-style lifestyle with their newfound wealth? Well, that's our fault too.
Worse, Americans are now forced to buy SUVs in a Noam Chomsky-esque conspiracy between Congress and all the fat cats in the oil and auto industry. Apparently, Americans have no free will either--we're just a bunch of dupes.
Reading a brand extension--whoops, I mean a book--filled with condescending anecdotes like this can get extremely annoying, especially after 400 or so pages.
And oh, the cliches in this book! On just about every page you'll find something like this: "It is not about lighting up our house; it is about lighting up our future." You'll feel the first tinglings of bromide poisoning before you finish the second chapter.
I get the feeling that in Friedman's falsely nostalgic mind, there must have been some era, probably thirty or forty years ago, when Presidents were young, beautiful and perfect, when we all held hands and worked together, when all countries loved us, and when everything was good and right the world.
Wait, I've got it--he's talking about his college days in the 1960s! Yep, that was a perfect time. No geopolitical problems back then.
Friedman takes obvious pleasure in talking about his travels and his meetings with government and business leaders all over the world. Perhaps, though, he ought to spend some time with people in this country; I'd suggest anyone who lives somewhere west of New York and somewhere east of California and doesn't neatly fit the anecdotal needs of his arguments. You know, actual Americans. He might discover that people in America have slightly more free will than he thinks.
I have a feeling that at some point in the future, at the end of his long and successful writing career, we will look back at this book and mark it as the exact point at which Tom Friedman became old and out of touch.
I'd love to hear any opposing views on this book from readers.
Suggested reading list from Hot, Flat, and Crowded:
1) The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria
2) Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
3) The Bridge at the End of the World by James Gustave Speth
4) The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil
5) The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman
6) The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization by Thomas Friedman
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