THAT USED TO BE US by Thomas L. Friedman


How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back
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A comprehensive but unoriginal look at the challenges America faces in 2011 and beyond.

New York Times columnist Friedman (Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How It Can Save America, 2008, etc.) and Mandelbaum (American Foreign Policy/Johns Hopkins Univ.; The Frugal Superpower: America’s Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era, 2010, etc.) join forces to explain why they believe America's glory days are waning and what Americans should do to reverse the downward slide. The authors suggest that America's problems should be addressed through “stick-to-itiveness,” political compromise and a renewed sense of national purpose. Americans must admit that global warming exists, impose saner environmental regulations, reform the immigration policy, demand more from teachers, principals and schools, lower government spending and break the addiction to oil. None of these recommendations are new, and all have been argued more cogently elsewhere. (For more incisive discussions of climate change, see Bill McKibben's Eaarth. Regarding oil, see Amanda Little's Power Trip.) Friedman and Mandelbaum's solutions to America's difficulties take the form of motivational slogans littered with clichés, and they delight in relating inspirational tales of average Americans who accomplished great things by being “just too dumb to quit.” More than once, they write that Americans must be prepared to do “something big and hard together,” to become “creative creators.” The urgency of deficit reduction places “the future of the country” in our hands, “as it was for the GIs on the beaches of Normandy.” High-skilled immigrants are “brainy risk takers;” low-skilled immigrants are “the brawny ones” (America needs both). Friedman and Mandelbaum are clearly attempting to make complicated concepts accessible to a general audience. However, in relying on Friedman's trademark blend of condescension, clumsy analogies and uninspiring centrism, they fail to break any new ground.

While the challenges described in the book are serious indeed, and most readers will agree with much of what the authors explore, the narrative execution is lacking. Disappointing.

Pub Date: Sept. 5th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-374-28890-7
Page count: 360pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2011


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