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  • Perfect Paperback
  • Publisher: Holtzbrinck Publishers (2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374530483
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374530488
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 13.8 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,595,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Long-winded but well written 6 July 2007
Firstly a health warning - it's a REALLY long book. Even skimming some sections it took me a long while to read it. Overall it is a good if somewhat long winded read. As someone working in technology I found it a little patronizing in places but that could just be a function of its target audience not working day to day with some of the technologies he's discussing.
The book lays out a series of trends and technologies that have, in his phrase, flattened the world by making it more interconnected than ever before. He goes on to discuss how this fits with globalization, how companies are reinventing themselves in the face of these changes, some of the problems and risks and what kinds of political and public policy impacts it might all have.
If you are a patient reader this is a good introduction and discussion of the issues facing business and government in the Internet era. If you are not, you might want to find something shorter.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The World is Flat, still a worthwhile read. 3 July 2013
`The World is Flat' was published for the first time in 2005 to wide acclaim and thanks to its success (It won the first Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award) had quite an important impact. Whereas at that time it pointed out something new to its readership, 8 years later the ideas developed have become quite mainstream. I do not know if before the publication of this book `outsourcing' and `offshoring' were well-known terms, now however a lot of the elements which contributed to `the flattening of our planet' (the globalization), have become quite familiar notions, daily discussed in the economic press. Currently the big theme is the shifting of the economic weight to Asia, and this is to a large extent due to the outsourcing and offshoring by Western companies.
Everybody will be aware, by daily experience that the internet offers very diverse possibilities (as a source of information, as a facilitator of social networks, enabling to do transactions with far-off places...) which did not exist before. The last two decades enormous opportunities were offered globally to individuals. I was curious to know if the reading of this book in the year 2013 was still worthwhile.
It is. Not the least because I was not familiar with all the `forces' that Friedman points out having contributed to the flattening of the world (e.g. the `uploading' , i.e. Friedman-speak for the empowerment of individuals by the readily availability of advanced knowledge and technology, `insourcing', i.e. that companies incorporate the knowledge of specialized providers...).
However, Friedman does not limit himself to the description of the forces which contributed to the flattening of the planet, but he also offers remedies for the challenges and upheavals that this phenomenon creates.
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7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The World Is Flat 27 Aug 2006
By Pius
The World Is Flat: is an insightful book with a unique and interesting theory, which tries to explain a lot of the socio-economic, cultural and political trend in the world in a simple, anecdotal manner. Pleasurable to read and reminds me in some ways of Freakonomics, The Union Moujik, The Usurper and Other Stories. Most people will enjoy it too.
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20 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flat world through clouded glasses 13 Aug 2006
Thomas Friedman is a good observer---and has a superficial understanding of the history in present. Rather feeble, he panders a lot, pretends to give the other side---its just deserved time---but he believes that history is static and something established in stone: like the Ten Commandments brought down by Moses, a messenger of TF's faith. He stated on the Fareed Zakaria show, today, that the destiny of Iraq was in the hands of its Sunni minority, it was a question of whether the Sunnis can adjust to a change in their power status in Iraq. He went on to compare this to the Palestinian attitude--they have not accepted Israel and are trying to fight with hundred years of history. TF is a good observer, but not a thinker, and looks at the world through the clouded glasses of his heritage. And thus--right and wrong are relative--it all depends on the side you are on. He personifies a typical American moderate (my way or highway with some sugar coating) when you are willing into buy on his pitching his faith. Hstory neither ends nor is it made, it always goes on. Third Reich was not to be history until 3,000; and American and Israeli hagemony: oh never. Hundred years he refers to are but about a three-fourth of human life span, mere 36, 500 days! But for the likes of TF the history begins from at that convenient point that has the most advantage to begin their sermon of their beliefs--so, indeed, there was a great wisdom in the creation of this island of Zionism in the middle of a sea of oil in Arabia, he seems to believe it is the history cast in stone. If you want to begin to understand history you should read John Gray--no not the Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus--but the Straw Dogs, and Al Qa-ee-da and What it Means to be Modern. Mr. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  1,148 reviews
202 of 221 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Why should we read this? 18 Sep 2005
By Ralph Bradley - Published on Amazon.com
Tom Friedman is a well connected journalist. His columns appear on the op-ed pages of the New York Times and his previous works LONGITUDES AND ATTITUDES and THE LEXUS AND THE OLIVE TREE are part of the "conventional wisdom" of most American decision makers. This new book, THE WORLD IS FLAT will also find its way into the "conventional wisdom." Unfortunately, it is at best a misdiagnosis of the factors that have lead to the ability to substitute labor across geographical boundaries. However, although it is as wrong as could be, many of our power elites will read or hear of this, and will base their decisions on the assumption that this book contains the truth. The reason that you should read it is that it is conventional wisdom and you are perhaps better off understanding this and how it is wrong.

Friedman's explanation is a simple one - the world has transformed from a three dimensional phenomenon, a sphere, to a two dimensional flat plane where there are no entry barriers into the labor market. So, a radiologist in Boston can be easily substituted for a radiologist in Bangalore. Oh, how it would be nice if it were this simple. But alas it is not. Friedman, I believe, is well intentioned, but he mistakenly believes that he can find the truth through anecdotes. So, his empirical evidence comes from stories of things that he does not understand instead of the use of reliable demographic and economic databases.

He believes that 10 exogenous forces can explain how "the world became flat." While doing this, he solely looks at the labor market and ignores the effects of the consumer, monetary, raw material/energy, and fixed investment markets. He cannot distinguish between a symptom and a cause. These 10 forces that he claims changed the labor markets are not causes but merely symptoms.

Friedman is a name dropper par excellence, and rubs elbows with the elite. Unfortunately for him, he cannot detect competence or incompetence. One reason that this book will not age well is that when he wrote it in 2004 he was rubbing elbows with the incompetent elites such as Carly Fiorina who botched the merger between Compaq and Hewlett Packard and Nobuyuki Idei, the incompetent chairman of Sony. He praises these folks to win their favor, but reading this in 2005, demonstrates how little he knows.

A major problem that Friedman ignores is the inability of any government to impartially referee our global economy. No country has good corporate governance laws, and the US is becoming increasing unable to protect both intellectual and physical property rights. This problem creates new barriers and instead of flattening the world, it adds new walls and new traps. Poor corporate governance promotes crony capitalism and not the meritocracy capitalism that Friedman thinks it is supporting. Just look at the disconnect between executive pay and performance as evidence that many incompetent corporate chieftains are keeping their jobs and continuing to make poor decisions. American law is ineffective, the inability to sentence Health South's Scrushy shows that Sarbanes Oxley is not working, and the inability to put Ken Lay, Michael Eisner, and Michael Ovitz in prison shows how little protection the share holders have. Things are worse in China, India, and Japan where "transparency" is not even a part of the vocabulary.

The book is filled with inconsistency. It derides the inflexibility of the European welfare state, but calls for an American safety net to protect those from globalization. He calls for the enactment of "Hillary care" but cannot explain the reason that it failed passage in 1993. He praise the Asian "rote learning" systems, but later on calls on American youth to think unconventionally. He is calling on the federal government to do contradictory things such as keep minimum wages and promote market efficiency.

America's increasing indebtedness is not given one sentence in this book. Not only are jobs being exported to Southeast Asia, but claims and control on American assets are also being transferred. Increasingly, the important capital allocations in America will be directed by foreign executives who will be even less accountable than the Bernie Ebbers and the Ken Lays.

In short, Friedman is not qualified to write on this topic, but like the incompetent overpaid executive that he hangs with, he will be over paid and over read. At best, we might be able to profit if we understand how this "conventional wisdom" is wrong and then short sell the companies whose leaders make bad decisions based on this wrong analysis.
1,411 of 1,584 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Competing in a shrinking world 5 April 2005
By John Zxerce - Published on Amazon.com
I'd forgotten the pleasure reading good prose brings. Friedman not only writes well, but does so on an important subject- globalization. He states, "It is now possible for more people than ever to collaborate and compete in real time with more people on more different kinds of work from more different corners of the planet and on a more equal footing than at any previous time in the history of the world."

He claims, "When the world is flat, you can innovate without having to emigrate". But, how did the world `become flat'? Friedman suggest the trigger events were the collapse of communism, the dot-com bubble resulting in overinvestment in fiber-optic telecommunications, and the subsequent out-sourcing of engineers enlisted to fix the perceived Y2K problem.

Those events created an environment where products, services, and labor are cheaper. However, the West is now losing its strong-hold on economic dominance. Depending on if viewed from the eyes of a consumer or a producer - that's either good or bad, or a combination of both.

What is more sobering is Friedman's elaboration on Bill Gates' statement, "When I compare our high schools to what I see when I'm traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow. In math and science, our fourth graders are among the top students in the world. By eighth grade, they're in the middle of the pack. By 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations. . . . The percentage of a population with a college degree is important, but so are sheer numbers. In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the United States did. China graduates twice as many students with bachelor's degrees as the U.S., and they have six times as many graduates majoring in engineering. In the international competition to have the biggest and best supply of knowledge workers, America is falling behind."

Friedman sounds the alarm with a call for diligence and fortitude - academically, politically, and economically. He sees a dangerous complacency, from Washington down through the public school system. Students are no longer motivated. "In China today, Bill Gates is Britney Spears. In America today, Britney Spears is Britney Spears -- and that is our problem."

Questions I wish Friedman had explored in further detail are:

1. When should countries do what benefits the global economy, and when should they look out for their own interests? (protectionism, tariffs, quotas, etc.)

2. What will a `flat world' mean to the world's poor? (those living in Haiti, Angola, Kazakhstan, etc.)

3. What cultural values (or absence thereof) are contributing to the West's loss of productivity, education, and excellence? (morality, truth, religion, meaning, hope?)

4. How will further globalization effect cultural distinctions? (Are we heading towards a universal melting pot?)

5. What will a `flat world' mean environmentally - particularly for those countries on the verge of an economic explosion?
406 of 462 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Well-written but based on an oversimplified and factually inaccurate premise 15 Aug 2005
By P. Petersen - Published on Amazon.com
An enlightening essay on the nature of the business world and how the global interconnectedness and outsourcing has leveled the playing field. Completely wrong, and based on an oversimplified and factually inaccurate premise, but well-written and enlightening. In Friedman's "flat" world, it's possible for a call center in India to take orders which then get processed by a shipping service in Indiana which forwards the order to a warehouse in Oakland that stores merchandise made from parts made in Taiwan and assembled in Malaysia. All this is written in such a way as to make the Corporate Executives of the world look like the good guys for somehow coming up with a win-win scenario whereby they bring jobs to third-world countries, at the same time saving themselves money while increasing their productivity and efficiency - a fine premise in the ideal, but hopelessly impractical on several realistic human levels.

The book is very well-written, but Friedman fails to take into account the realities surrounding the fact that in order for such a system to work with any kind of sustainability it needs to create jobs to replace the ones that have been outsourced. Friedman's answer to this is that creativity and inventiveness will take the place of the grunt-work that's been outsourced, an idea that looks good on paper but fails to consider that our society's most financially successful businesses have never invented or innovated anything, instead relying on finding new ways to produce an existing product in a way that's cheaper and faster than their nearest competitor - thus fostering an environment that's not very conducive to innovation. The developers of new technology rarely if ever are the ones to reap the majority of financial benefit from its sale. One cannot, therefore, draw any sort of connection whatsoever from the outsourcing of jobs to the creation of new ones through innovation. If anything, the opposite is true.

Friedman also fails to mention some fairly major flaws in human nature, including things like greed, laziness, and the tendency to make decisions based on emotion and loyalty rather than logic or practicality. There's also this pesky need for workers to continue to be able to support their families on ever-decreasing wages; the need to eat sort of gets in the way of his nice, neat little theory of how wonderfully global the new technology is. In Friedman's ideal world, the world's CEO's would all outsource their labor to countries where labor is cheaper and use the money they saved to create better, higher-paying jobs for all those displaced workers here stateside. Meanwhile, the third world countries would all use their new income from the influx of manufacturing jobs to improve their own standard of living. But this is oversimplified to the point of being absurd -- the CEO's are outsourcing their labor and pocketing the savings while they lay off the workers. The workers aren't going back to school to learn new, higher-paying careers (a Welder's not going to necessarily be able to go back and get a degree in Software Engineering just because that's what jobs are available anyway because he can't afford to go back and be a full-time student for 4 years while he's trying to support his family. The CEO's aren't paying for the re-education of their displaced workforce, instead they're buying homes in the Caribbean and outsourcing their HQ to the Cayman Islands so they don't have to pay taxes. Meanwhile, those third world countries are experiencing no recognizable increase in their standard of living, and they won't anytime soon -- the reason labor is so cheap in those countries is because their governments don't require employers to pay health benefits or any other kind of benefits. If employers paid for their employees to have a higher standard of living, the cost of doing business would increase no matter what country they're in. And since the sole reason corporations are outsourcing is to lower the overhead by using cheap labor, it doesn't make any sense for them to increase their cost of labor by paying for the same things they're required to pay for with American workers. Heck, we can't even get Wal-mart to pay worker's health benefits in this country, how can we expect them to pay for any such benefits in their cheap labor abroad. Really the only winners in this mess are the guys in the top echelons of the corporations, for whose often-unethical policies toward workers Mr. Friedman seems to come across more an apologist than an objective journalist.

Also, I've never heard anyone mention Bill Gates so many times and in such favorable terms in the course of a book on global economics; according to Friedman's revisionist version, it was Gates who invented the personal computer; Windows was the first and only user-friendly operating system according to this author. Case in point: there is a passage in the book that alludes to Microsoft's far-reaching vision regarding the internet and e-commerce. The truth is, Microsoft was caught completely off guard by the advancement of the Internet - Windows 3.0 had very little built-in networking capability; they had to release a special version called Windows for Workgroups when it was discovered that networks were starting to become status quo; The first release of Windows 95 had no built-in internet connectivity, and no web browser was included until Netscape came along, at which point Microsoft had to hurry up and figure out how to make their operating system work on the internet. Gates was even on record back then as saying that he didn't think the internet would ever really amount to much as far as how it would affect the way people used computers. But according to Friedman, Bill Gates was a far-reaching visionary who singlehandedly created the internet, e-commerce, and everything else we take for granted today. That should give you some idea as to the factual inaccuracies that permeate the book. For a more accurate background on the history of computers and the Internet, readers should buy a copy of In The Beginning Was The Command Line, by Neal Stephenson.

Near the end of the book, Friedman plays the 9/11 card. In a moment of wild speculation, he actually blames the terrorist attacks on the fact that the terrorists were from poor countries and were jealous of the prosperity that the Western World has had through globalization, and he puts forth the theory that if these people had had a McDonalds in their town and a couple of factories making Gap clothing, they wouldn't've become terrorists. Except that most of the terrorists were from Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the world, a country that practically has a stranglehold on the world's corporate economy already. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 had nothing to do with corporate globalization and everything to do with the past 20 years of US foreign policy in the middle east. But hooray for us, we've got globalization, and if those poor terrorists over there had globalization too, maybe they wouldn't be terrorists. Puh-lease.

I have heard it said by others that Friedman's book looks at the overall "big picture" of globalization and not the individual details. However, as the saying goes, "the devil is in the details." Friedman's extoling of the virtues of globalization fails to take into account several key factors which, when considered, paint the globalization picture in an entirely different light. Clearly Friedman's vision of a flat earth won't come true until we solve the paradox of how to make humans into a race of mindless, overachieving, underpaid automatons who still somehow manage to think creatively enough to constantly invent enough new technology to create new jobs at the same rate as the old jobs are being outsourced.
401 of 473 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Leveled by flatness 23 April 2005
By Peter Lorenzi - Published on Amazon.com
From the first few pages when Friedman leaps from level playing fields to a flat world, it is almost easy to understand why the cover shows ships falling off the edge of an un-flat world [NOTE: The current dust cover, changed since this review was written, no longer depicts ships falling off a 'flat' earth. You can draw your own conclusions as to the motives behind that decision.]. Something is missing here. "Level" is not "flat". And ships don't fall off a flat surface. Is he trying to be ironic? If so, Friedman ought to leave that to P.J. O'Rourke. If he thinks a "brief history" of the past five years is a funny concept, again I refer you to O'Rourke for more robust and pointed humor.

As a journalist, with seemingly unlimited resources and the once-gilded New York Times brand name behind him, Friedman has leveraged his basic skills into best-sellerdom, all the while seemingly in shock and awe of all the things his rich travel budget allows him to take in. Yet I have to ask, where's the beef?

Yes, the world has shifted from networks based on mythology and monarchies, through manufacturing and Marxism, to today's global marketing, but services aren't a new phenomenon; they've always been with us. And although wireless communication has made the world faster and more competitive, life is no more ruthless, violent or uncertain now than when plagues, expansive military conquest, disease, poor hygiene, inbred monarchies, and wealth-by-acquisition ruled the world as they have for most of human existence. Sure, technology has increased the pace, but each generation seems to think that the last generation had it slow and easy, and that has never been the case. The poor villager who wandered too far away from his hut 1,500 years ago experienced no less a shock than today's global traveler stepping off a plane in Mumbai.

And this outsourcing 'problem' is not new and it is not based simply on information technology. For as long as man has tried to better his life and to leverage his advantages, he has hired someone else to produce the things he needs, be it food, cooking, child care, or production. Like services, outsourcing is not new. That villager from 1,500 years ago thought that outsourcing crop production to the next village over was no less daunting or distant than Americans importing oranges from Israel or roses from Brazil. And you can bet the other villagers were mad as hell at him for taking away 'their' work.

For more than fifty years, columnists, pundits, journalists, armchair analysts, and bad economists have been intrigued by each new emerging economic superpower, from the Soviet Union, to the European Union, to Japan, to China, and now India, and each time all that wonderment and starry-eyed predictions have come to nothing. Like Ayn Rand said, what separates America from the rest of the world is that we were the first to think of making money, not just taking money. And America still does that very well. I still have my doubts about the sustainability of growth in China and India. Sooner or later they are going to hit a consumer-oriented economy and demands for many things their people don't demand today. Besides, their growth has been exaggerated by the fact that they started basically at zero. Bad analysts like straight-line extrapolations. Not only do these growth lines sometimes flatten out, they can nose dive. And what's bigger and more dramatic, 3% growth in a $11 trillion economy or 7% in a $200 million economy?

Maybe the world has become more homogenous with technology and communications. But anyone who thinks that there is some huge melting pot, in America or around the world, would be better served by recognizing the world as a salad bowl, not a melting pot. And neither the pot or bowl are flat.
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Prose is Flat 9 Nov 2005
By Dianne Roberts - Published on Amazon.com
I can't honestly agree with the gentleman who feels that this book was a reminder of how enjoyable good prose can be. This book has to have one of the most annoying styles I've ever suffered through. It seems to be written with a blend of "hey, look at me! look how clever and funny I am!", IT company advertising over-optimism of how well all the telecommunications technologies work and how they're going to change everything that ever existed in the world -so you better get ready-, and "look at how many CEO's I've had lunch with!"

Needless to say, it gets tiresome fast. By page 160 I wanted the author to just get to his point (which was overly repeated), and to leave all the attitude and overbearing style out of it. I usually read a book this size in about a week. After taking a month to get to page 200 I had to put it down for two weeks since I couldn't take anymore sentences like: "Now more people will be able to plug and play to get in touch with more people, more machines, more businesses, to share more data, more information, more stock quotes, more pornography, more whatever, at anywhere, at anytime, from anyplace, than ever before in the history of the world, thanks to digitization, virtualization, blah, blah, blah . . . " The above sentence would be fine as the last sentence of a chapter. Instead it's EVERY sentence in the whole book! Once I randomly flipped to one page and counted 11 uses of the word "any", and 3 rambling lists of "stuff" in a category instead of just mentioning that category. For example instead of saying "you could work from anywhere" the author feels compelled to say something like "you could work from the home, the beach house, the hotel, the mall, the park, on your way to the airport, the bullet train rushing past Mt. Fuji, blah, blah, blah, look at how many cool / cutesy places I can name! Did I mention I had lunch with a CEO, and that I discovered the world was flat? Let me do so again on THIS page in case you forgot from when I told you in the last paragraph already."

OK, now that I have that off my chest . . .

This book started out with a 5 star rating because it is a book about a very interesting and important topic, namely the way telecommunications / supply chain management / etc. are changing how business is being done (economic barriers of entry and importance of geographic location are being eliminated essentially) and how this affects the rest of the world. It loses a star for the fact that reading this book is a tremendous chore for the reasons outlined above. It loses another star for the fact that the author clearly talked only to CEO's and founders of the telecom companies, and not the engineers on the front lines using the software products he's talking about. As an engineer with a company mentioned in the book I have first hand, personal experience that some of the rosy picture he paints about how well the flat world works simply isn't true. Even with all the "steroids" and "flatteners" he talks about, the bottom line improvement in productivity just isn't as great as the CEO's who make the software will rave about in order to promote their product. In fact, when design teams become so outsourced all over the world, and so divorced from manufacturing you have the potential of wasting a lot of money instead of saving it. When IT as a business fad goes too far -and management loses sight of what they're really supposed to be doing instead of running with the let's have more IT herd- you end up with smart, highly paid people across the nation, if not the world, making and sending to each other powerpoint charts about a product / service they no longer have any real contact with or knowledge of.

Also be warned there's some significant, and slightly hypocritical at points, Bush and Republican bashing.

I'd cautiously recommend this book, but only for people who can put up with a LOT of attitude, and some political bias.
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