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Don't be fooled by the Latin title and "serious" cover. These essays are tongue-in-cheek, down to earth, and absolutely hilarious, especially if you're a voracious reader-- or have ever had to do any copyediting.
Fadiman is humble and self-deprecating, describing her family as compulsive proofers-- I loved the example of them gleefully pointing out errors in restaurant menus. But it's impossible not to be bowled over by her turns-of-phrase and her wit.
The essay about how she and her husband married their book collections is also a standout-- and one that anybody can relate to who's ever been through this, whether it be with books, cds or spices!
My only complaint about this book is that it's impossible to put down, and that it's too short. When I got back from my (business) trip I immediately photocopied the essay on proofreading for the head of marketing, the artistic director, and the managing director of the theatre where I work (there had been a crisis in semicolons in my absence). This book is a reference for any teacher, writer, reader or marketer. One of the best reads of the year!
The other two sections of the book, which dealt with the 50's housewife who read Mrs. Dalloway, and the fictional account of V. Woolfe writing the novel, were much more enjoyable and well done.
Filled with razor-sharp observation and devastating emotional interconnectedness, THE HOURS is a stunning odyssey through a day in the lives of three women, and by extrapolation, every woman and every human being. It would be impossible to read this book and not find little bits and pieces of yourself strewn across its pages.
What's really amazing is that Cunningham is able to stick so close to the themes, structure, and characterization of Woolf's novel, while managing to build, out of seemingly the same pieces, a story all his own.
What THE HOURS does so well is reveal to us the binding emotional ties that unite us all. It makes you see the similarities in ostensibly different lives, different dreams, and different words. Cunningham manages to create a perfectly balanced fulcrum on which a large teeter totter of metaphors is able to swing up and down in powerful arcs.
As the New York Times foreign affairs columnist he is able to bring a wealth of experience and personal observation to the book, and he fills it with interesting, compelling, and sometimes disturbing anecdotes from his travels and relationships with foreign leaders.
He makes a case that through the democratization of finance, information, and technology, we have an increasingly interdependent global economy, fraught with both great rewards, and great dangers. Friedman artfully describes those groups of people who are well positioned for success (and also risk) in the global economy, "gazelles and lions," who have to run every day to eat or to avoid being eaten. The author also describes those people who are not positioned to compete in the global economy (the "Fast World") and see globalization as an unseen and uncontrollable force increasingly threatening the lives and livelihood of both themselves and their children (turtles, trying to avoid becoming road kill).
Friedman explains the danger to a backlash against globalization and gives real suggestions about things to change in our political construct, and things to preserve and strengthen. In his words "America, at its best is not just a country. It's a spiritual value and role model. It's a nation that is not afraid to go to the moon, but also still loves to come home for Little League."
I finished the book with tears in my eyes. The strength of his vision is compelling and this book is the first I have read that has both defined, and accurately caught the start of, this new system of globalization.
In Friedman's view, the "slow, fixed, divided Cold War system" is readily distinguishable from the "new, very greased, interconnected" world of globalization, in which free-market capitalism is spreading throughout the world. According to Friedman: "While the defining measurement of the Cold War was weight - particularly the throw weight of missiles - the defining measurement of the globalization system is speed - speed of commerce, travel, communication and innovation." In contrast to the Cold War's "overly regulated, walled up system," Friedman explains that globalization's three "democratization" - the democratization of information, the democratization of technology, and the democratization of finance - are changing the way business and everything else is done. In Friedman's view, "what is new...is the sheer number of people and countries able to partake of today's globalized economy and information networks, and to be affected by them." According to Friedman, "the Internet offers the closest thing to a perfectly competitive market in the world today." Friedman explains: "In the 1980s the Internet was a novelty. By the 1990s it was a useful technology. By the time the new millennium rolled around it was an indispensable tool for doing business." Friedman writes at some length about what he cleverly calls "the Electronic Herd," which is "made up of all the faceless stock, bond and currency traders sitting behind computer screens all over the globe, moving their money around from mutual funds to pension funds to emerging markets, or trading on the Internet from their basements." According to Friedman: "Countries cannot thrive in today's world without plugging into the Electronic Herd." Friedman explains that, with "the end of the Cold War system and the fall of walls everywhere, there suddenly emerged a vast global plain where investor herds from many different countries could roam freely." Friedman acknowledges that the effects of globalization are not entirely positive. For instance, Friedman acknowledges that the Electronic Herd is "potentially more volatile" than previous models, and that makes markets less stable. According to Friedman, "today, in the globalization era, the ability of the herd to transmit instability from bad countries to good countries has vastly increased." In addition, Friedman predicts that the system of globalization will "both environmental disasters and amazing environmental rescues." The prospect of environmental problems in the new world order is especially troubling. Friedman asks: "Can we develop a method of environmentally sustainable globalization?" He answers: "One hope is clearly that technology will evolve in ways that will help us preserve green areas faster than the Electronic Herd can trample them." Friedman adds: "But technological breakthroughs alone will not be enough to neutralize the environmental impact of the herd, because the innovations simply are not happening fast enough - compared to how fast the herd moves, grows and devours." Friedman places his hope in "super-empowered environmentalists" "who, acting on their own, can now fight back effectively against both the Electronic Herd and governments...[M]ore and more multinationals are realizing that to preserve their global reputation and global brands in the face of Internet activism, they need to be environmentally responsible." Friedman also offers this cautionary observation: "[I]n 2000 we understand as much about today's system of globalization is going to work as we understood how the Cold War system was going to work in 1946." Friedman's point, I believe, is that, although we have been able to give a name - globalization - tothe most powerful force changing the world, that does not mean that we are close to fully comprehending it. Some aspects of the globalized world are fully comprehensible and frightening. Notwithstanding the manifest benefits of globalization, there is an ongoing backlash against it. In particular, Friedman warns about "the real, immediate national security threat" from what he calls "the Super-Empowered Angry Man," such as the Aum Shinrikyo sect in Japan, the Unabomber, Osama bin Laden, and the Ramzi Yousef group in New York. Friedman implies, quite correctly I believe, that, the globalized world may be very exciting, but it also remains a very dangerous place. Friedman obviously believes that most of the globalization process is beneficial, and he probably is correct, but he also is not entirely objective. Friedman is not merely a pundit. He is a proponent for globalization. He writes: "You cannot thrive today without plugging into the Electronic Herd."
This book is excellent, and, all things considered, I believe it is superior to John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge's A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalization, another introduction to globalization which I recently read and reviewed. However, I would recommend either. Whether one is a globalization proponent or opponent or neutral, the system is changing the world, and that behooves all of us to understand it better.
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