A Quiet American

Thomas Friedman’s latest book gets a significantly chillier reception in the Guardian than in Friedman’s own paper, the New York Times.

In her introduction to Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, Zadie Smith says of Alden Pyle, the American of the title: “His worldly innocence is a kind of fundamentalism.” She goes on: “Reading the novel again reinforced my fear of all the Pyles around the world. They do not mean to hurt us, but they do.”

Greene has Pyle travelling with books such as The Role of the West and The Challenge to Democracy. A modern-day Greene could substitute the works of the real-life Thomas Friedman – a contemporary quiet American. Like Pyle, Friedman is “impregnably armed by his good intentions and his ignorance”. In The World Is Flat Friedman has produced an epyllion to the glories of globalisation with only three flaws: the writing style is prolix, the author is monumentally self-obsessed, and its content has the depth of a puddle.

The reviewer, Richard Adams, finds The World Is Flat to be a mere rewrite of Friedman’s earlier book, The Lexus and The Olive Tree, the style “grating,” and adds that the book “contains no surprises for anyone who hasn’t been locked in a cupboard for the past five years.” In contrast, Fareed Zakaria, reviewing the book in the NY Times, finds the metaphor of a flat world “ingenious,” and the style “accessible.”

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