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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review: That Used to be Us by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum

Title: That Used to be Us
Author: Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publish Date: September 5, 2011
Source: Library






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a non-fiction fan.
  • You enjoy reading about foreign relations.
  • You enjoy reading about the economy.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "America is in trouble. We face four major challenges on which our future depends, and we are failing to meet them—and if we delay any longer, soon it will be too late for us to pass along the American dream to future generations.        

In That Used to Be Us, Thomas L. Friedman, one of our most influential columnists, and Michael Mandelbaum, one of our leading foreign policy thinkers, offer both a wake-up call and a call to collective action. They analyze the four challenges we face—globalization, the revolution in information technology, the nation’s chronic deficits, and our pattern of excessive energy consumption—and spell out what we need to do now to sustain the American dream and preserve American power in the world. They explain how the end of the Cold War blinded the nation to the need to address these issues seriously, and how China’s educational successes, industrial might, and technological prowess remind us of the ways in which “that used to be us.” They explain how the paralysis of our political system and the erosion of key American values have made it impossible for us to carry out the policies the country urgently needs.        

And yet Friedman and Mandelbaum believe that the recovery of American greatness is within reach. They show how America’s history, when properly understood, offers a five-part formula for prosperity that will enable us to cope successfully with the challenges we face. They offer vivid profiles of individuals who have not lost sight of the American habits of bold thought and dramatic action. They propose a clear way out of the trap into which the country has fallen, a way that includes the rediscovery of some of our most vital traditions and the creation of a new thirdparty movement to galvanize the country.         

That Used to Be Us is both a searching exploration of the American condition today and a rousing manifesto for American renewal."

My Two Cents: 

Full disclosure: I'm a big Thomas Friedman fan. I think he has a lot of interesting things to say and a lot of good ideas. I'm less familiar with Michael Mandelbaum although some of his books are now on my TBR based on what he discussed in this book. 


Anyhow, I really liked this book. The authors start out with talking about how we've kind of lost our way as a country. We've had a lot of things (such as the recession) thrust upon us but we've sort of gotten lazy too. The book opens with a story about the Washington, DC Metro (something I know a little bit about having ridden it every weekday for the past couple years) and how it's sort of a metaphor for all of the ills that we're feeling and how we've sort of gotten used to it and are at a loss to change things. Friedman and Mandelbaum start out by talking about several challenges that the United States is currently facing.  They use lots of examples to illustrate what they're talking about and they brought up a lot of things that I've never thought about before.


One thing that I like about Friedman's books is that I think they're accessible to those that don't have a lot of background in things like economics and foreign relations. On the other hand, I think even those like myself who are sort of economics and poli sci nerds (guilty!), can get something new to think about out of these books. Even though I don't agree with every single thing in this book, it definitely made me think a little bit, something good in any book like this!



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