The basic idea behind this book is: by enabling us to instantaneously communicate, the internet has allowed work to be broken into smaller bits and hence (with the rise of new types of networks this enables) the marketplace has become more efficient and competitive. Sound banal? Well, it is.
Indeed, once I got to the end of the book, I wondered why I had bothered to read through it. For anyone who follows the business press and has an interest in economics, there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING new to find in this book, except perhaps in some of the details covered, such as the way UPS has transformed itself into a logistics company rather than a simple package deliverer.
Why was I so disappointed? I guess it is because of what I thought Friedman would bring to the book. On the one hand, I had hoped that Friedman might synthesize a vast range of knowledge into a framework that would tie together many disparate trends in a way that makes sense. That is, afterall, what Lester Thurow can do at his best. Unfortunately, what I found here is a half-baked metaphor - "Flatness," implying that the oldprotective barriers are "down" - that Friedman then tried to stretch to fit just about everything under the sun. (By using it as part of the everyday vocabulary of the book, it leads to some laughably tortuous prose: you get "compassionate flatism", "In the flat world you get your humiliation dished up to you fiberoptically" and the like). Alas, like Procrustes stretching his guests to fit his beds, this just doesn't capture enough to genuinely enlighten. He lacks the grounding to theorise.
Indeed, I found that he got many details wrong. First, Friedman is making a kind extension of the Ricardo argument for international economic specialization with the advent of the internet, etc., is for the better is spite of the risks. (This misreads Ricardo, who made an argument for international trade based on static rather than dynamic assets, but that is another story.) As such, this adds nothing new, though his arguments on developing educational skills are well taken (but exactly how new is that advice?).
Second, Friedman approaches a plethora of policy issues, from the unemployment of accountants (as their work is delegated to India) to dealing with Bin Laden (and how his network uses the internet). Rather than fitting it all into a context, it is a kind of shotgun approach that lurches all over the place, incoherently in my view, linked only by the fact that we can communicate faster than ever. He also covers things so superficially that it is appalling. For example, he tells us that Moslem youths feel rootless and humiliated and so turn in rage to religious fanatics. Well, duh.
On the other hand, as a reporter for a first-rate newspaper, I thought he would unearth things that others have not. Instead, what I found was that he talked almost exclusively to CEO-level people, virtually all of whom are visionaries with their heads in the clouds. They entertain some idea of what things might become, but have few thoughts on the gritty problems involved in getting there, the cracks into which great ideas frequently fall and where they fail. It appears to me that what Friedman did was to find some talking head and let him pontificate uncritically and unchallenged. This was simply an awful and superficial performance - anyone who talks to these people, as I must in my work, should challenge them or at a minimum pin them down. Friedman, perhaps happy they are accepting as an equal, does neither.
The rhetorical style of the book is also ridiculously repetitive. In each chapter, he has some glib saying, vaguely related to the chapter's theme, to repeat after an observation, like "this is not a test" or "sort that out". In truly narcissistic style, he acts as if when he puts a label on something, he encompasses it all by virtue of who he is, so he just hammers it into the readers' minds. It is not only boring, but he seems unaware as to how intellectually lax the book is - perhaps because he is so self-satisfied. I bet that, in answer to my assertion that there is nothing new here, he would say it is because he discovered it all first and made it mainstream - but I think he has just become intoxicated with his own mind.
The only person to whom I wd recommend this book is someone who doesn't read the newspapers and wants a superficial introduction to the vast and accelerating changes around us today, which would lead to further critical inquiry elsewhere. Otherwise, forget it.