Monday, August 25, 2008

Reading "The World Is Flat" is Not Off To a Good Start

A very popular book was recommended to me that sounded intriguing, The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman. I very much want to like it -- globalization and how technology has changed our world are both interesting topics. But page one, we're off to a very bad start, where it states Columbus proved to the Europeans once and for all that the world was round, not flat, as they allegedly believed.

WRONG. That is a myth. Pretty much any Christian in Europe after, oh, 1 AD or so knew the world was a globe. The Greeks certainly did. People were estimating the circumference of it as far back as 240 BC. From the Wikipedia:
The modern belief that especially medieval Christianity believed in a flat earth has been referred to as The Myth of the Flat Earth.[1] In 1945, it was listed by the Historical Association (of Britain) as the second of 20 in a pamphlet on common errors in history.[2] Recent scholarship[3] has argued that "with extraordinary [sic] few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat" and that the prevailing view was of a spherical earth.

Jeffrey Russell states that the modern view that people of the Middle Ages believed that the Earth was flat is said to have entered the popular imagination in the 19th century, thanks largely to the publication of Washington Irving's fantasy The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1828. Although these writers reject the idea of a flat earth, others such as the Flat Earth Society accept or promote the hypothesis.
Unfortunately, as late as 1983 textbooks have perpetuated this myth. I remember reading a children's book about Columbus in 5th grade in Texas and finding myself telling the teacher "This book is wrong." (She shook her head and went back to ignoring us.)

So how could a book written by a New York Times columnist no less be published with this glaring error? I'm hoping to get past the first chapter, but I'm not convinced I can. There's another problem in that Mr. Friedman seems to be mixing metaphors a lot, using "flat" when he means "fair" or "level"... or does he really mean "interconnected?" "Converging"? Perhaps "small" as in "It's a small world"? All of the above?

Now this myth will be read as truth by millions more people; it just won't die, ahousehold pest in the woodwork of historical accuracy. Thanks Mr. Friedman. Your head is flat, sir.

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posted by Brian at 6:51 PM


Blogger Nageswara Rao said...

Well, you're dead right, that Friedman mixes up the metaphors, badly at that!

I would recommend a small, but interesting book, by Aronica and Ramdoo, "The World is Flat? A Critical Analysis of Thomas Friedman's New York Times Bestseller," which offers a counterperspective to Friedman's theory on globalization.

It is a small book compared to the 600 page tome by Friedman, and aimed at the common man and students alike. As popular as the book may be, some reviewers assert that by what it leaves out, Friedman's book is dangerous. The authors point to the fact that there isn't a single table or data footnote in Friedman's entire book.

"Globalization is the greatest reorganization of the world since the Industrial Revolution," says Aronica. Aronica and Ramdoo conclude by listing over twenty action items that point the way forward, for understanding the critical issues of globalization.

You may want to see
and watch
for an interesting counterperspective on Friedman's
"The World is Flat".

Also a really interesting 6 min wake-up call: Shift Happens!

There is also a companion book listed: Extreme Competition: Innovation and the Great 21st Century Business Reformation

September 02, 2008  

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