Monday, February 5, 2007

Something Rotten + The World Is Flat

Mini-reviews of a book I read, and another book I only skim-read ...

1. "Something Rotten" by Jasper Fforde

This is the fourth (and latest) book in the "Thursday Next" Series,
following on from "The Eyre Affair", "Lost in a Good Book", and "The
Well of Lost Plots".

This time Thursday Next returns the real world after spending more than
two years in BookWorld (the world that exists within books).  She has
recently given birth to her eradicated husband's son.  Hamlet (from the
play of the same name) is taking an officially sanctioned break from the
slings an arrows of outrageous fortune to live at Thursday's mother's
house.  Meanwhile, Yorrick Kaine, a fictional character from an obscure
book, has made an unauthorised exit from BookWorld to become leader of
the Whig Party.  With the assistance of Goliath Corporation he is within
a whisker of becoming England's Dictator for Life.  He has already led
an anti-Danish movement, and is hell-bent on starting a new World War
that will ultimately lead to the end of civilisation.  Unless of course
Thursday can help fulfill the seventh and final "revealment" of St Zvlkx
and, despite overwhelming obstacles, guide the Swindon Mallets to
victory in the World Croquet League "Superhoop".

Jasper Fforde has delivered another very entertaining read.  However
you will probably need to read the earlier books in the series to get
the most out if it and for it all to make sense.

2. "The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century"
   by Thomas L. Friedman

I started reading this book, essentially about globalisation, but I gave
up after the first two chapters.  I ended up just skim-reading the rest
of the book in the hope that I would find anything worth reading.  Alas,
I didn't find anything to redeem it.  Don't get me wrong: I'm not
opposed to globalisation.  What I am opposed to is people trying to
argue that it is a panacea to the world's problems and that it is 100%

The book starts out describing how modern communications and events have
rendered the world "flat" (hence the book's title).  We're talking meta-
phorically here of course.  Basically, the removal of political and
other barriers, along with new technology, has made the world more
connected and reduced the tyranny of distance.  I don't have a problem
with this, and anyone who has worked with other people around the world
via the internet will probably yawn at this "revelation".

The author then proceeds to cite examples of the new world order.  He
namedrops and quotes from interviews with many high-flying CEOs.  If you
were to believe him, globalisation is unquestionably a Good Thing (TM).
There are no side-effects, and as long as everyone embraces it we can
all live happily ever after.  I suspect the hidden agenda is to promote
globalisation via the "flat world" metaphor, almost throwing up a smoke
screen to make you think that "flat world" equates to "level playing
field".  In my opinion, globalisation does not guarantee this at all.

Perhaps I'm being too cynical, but a couple of examples highlight my
concerns about the book.  Firstly, the book starts off praising call
centres such as those in India.  While I'm sure they do good and useful
work on behalf of many leading companies, some also act as annoying
telemarketers bombarding us with unsolicited phone calls to get us to
take up a particular mobile phone plan or switch to a different energy
provider.  The author obviously doesn't see this as a problem.  A second
example is the author's assertion that everyone using Microsoft Word to
prepare documents is unquestionably positive.  To think that some people
actually use MS Word to compose emails and send them as attachments.
Aargh!  Email is a flattener, Word is a boat-anchor.

If you're looking for a balanced, well-argued case about the merits of
globalisation, then this is not the book.  You will probably need to
also read an antidote book, such as "The World Is Flat?: A Critical
Analysis" by Ronald Aronica and Mtetwa Ramdoo:

But better still, save some time and try looking for a single book by an
impartial author (if that's even possible).