Reading guide for The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman

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The World Is Flat

A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century

by Thomas Friedman

The World Is Flat
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2005, 496 pages
    Jul 2007, 640 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!


Whether in Bangalore or Beijing, Friedman asks brilliant questions of everyone he encounters. The truth he distills from their responses brings a new perspective to the ways in which CEOs and religious radicals, entrepreneurs and garden-variety consumers, all create ripples that stir the geopolitical tide. The World Is Flat shows how each of us has an undeniable stake in globalization.

  1. The first chapter in The World Is Flat recalls the voyage of Columbus, colonization, and industrialization. Are the motivations behind twenty-first-century globalization much different from the ones recorded throughout history?

  2. Thomas L. Friedman discusses the many occupations that can now be outsourced or offshored, including his own job as a journalist. Could your job be done by someone in another country? Could you do your job better from home, as the JetBlue telephone agents do? Would you feel comfortable knowing that your taxes had been prepared by an overseas accountant, or your CAT scan read by an overseas radiologist? (Chapter One).

  3. The second chapter outlines "Ten Forces That Flattened the World," ranging from the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, to the open-source software movement. In what way did politics influence entrepreneurship in the 1990s? What psychological impact did November 9 have on the world, particularly when paired with new means for global communication?

  4. What is your opinion of the open-source movement? Should there be any limit to the amount of freedom, including "freedom" from the demand to make a profit, in the technology marketplace? (Chapter Two).

  5. What qualities enabled India to take center stage when the looming Y2K scenario generated unprecedented demand for programmers? What can other nations learn from India's success in this realm? What are India's greatest vulnerabilities? (Chapter Two)

  6. Discuss the ruthless efficiency demanded by supply-chaining. In the long run, does it benefit consumers? Do you believe it enhances or reduces production quality?  (Chapter Two)

  7. Were you familiar with the concept of "insourcing" prior to reading The World Is Flat? Does it matter to you whether your computer is repaired by an employee of Toshiba or of UPS? Should it matter? (Chapter Two).

  8. Friedman calls the tenth flattener "steroids." Are these crucial to success, or are they luxuries? Will the globe's nonsteroidal citizens be able to compete without them? (Chapter Two).

  9. In what ways has the Triple Convergence affected your day-to-day life? (Chapter Three).

  10. Discuss the "Indiana versus India" anecdote, recounted in the second section of Chapter Four. Which approach benefits Americans more: offshoring state projects and cutting taxpayer expenditures, or paying higher wages to maintain job security at home?

  11. Chapter Six, "The Untouchables," features the story of Friedman's childhood friend Bill Greer. What does his story indicate about flattening in the creative fields? Will illustrators lose out to Illustrator? What would it take for you to become an untouchable?

  12. Chapter Seven, "The Quiet Crisis," outlines three dirty secrets regarding American dominance: fewer young Americans pursuing careers in math and science, and the demise of both ambition and brainpower among American youth. What accounts for this? What would it take to restore academic rigor and the enthusiasm enjoyed during the "man on the moon" days?

  13. Which of the proposals in Chapter Eight, "This Is Not a Test," would you be able to implement?

  14. In Chapter Nine's third section, "I Can Only Get It for You Retail," Friedman offers a vivid portrait of the "neighborhoods" comprising various parts of the globe today. How will those neighborhoods look one hundred years from now? Will America still be a gated community, and Asia "the other side of the tracks"?

  15. Friedman contemplates the cultural traits (such as motivated, educated workers and leaders who don't squander the nation's treasure) that drive a nation's success.  He uses this to illustrate why Mexico, despite NAFTA, has become the tortoise while China has become the hare. Does America fit Friedman's cultural profile as a nation poised for prosperity? (Chapter Nine).

  16. Do you work for a company that is implementing any of Friedman's coping strategies? Which of them would be the most controversial in your industry? (Chapter Ten).

  17. What do you make of the approach taken by Bill Gates's foundation to combat disease? In your opinion, what are the roots of the public-health crisis in the Third World? (Chapter Eleven).

  18. How did the book's images of India compare to your previous perceptions of it, from the country-club atmosphere described on the first page to the tragedy of the untouchables? (Chapters One and Eleven).

  19. Compare The World Is Flat and Longitudes and Attitudes to Friedman's pre-9/11 books, The Lexus and the Olive Tree and From Beirut to Jerusalem. Has the author's approach to current affairs changed much since 9/11? Has al-Qaeda achieved any of its political goals in the fifteen-year span represented by all four books?

  20. Do you have faith in Michael Dell's theory of conflict prevention? What can we do to ensure that the strategic optimists win? And when they do, what dreams do you have for the world they will create? (Chapter Twelve).

Further Reading

  • The New Economy: And What It Means for America's Future by Roger Alcaly;
  • 20:21 Vision: Twentieth-Century Lessons for the Twenty-first Century by Bill Emmott;
  • China, Inc.: How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World by Ted C. Fishman;
  • The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World by Mark Hertsgaard;
  • The Red Carpet: Bangalore Stories by Lavanya Sankaran;
  • The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity by Amartya Sen

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Picador. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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