That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back

That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back

3.9 68
by Thomas L. Friedman, Michael Mandelbaum
     
 

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A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
A Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2011

In That Used to Be Us, Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum analyze the four major challenges we face as a country---globalization, the revolution in information technology, chronic deficits, and our pattern of energy consumption---and spell out what we

Overview

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
A Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2011

In That Used to Be Us, Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum analyze the four major challenges we face as a country---globalization, the revolution in information technology, chronic deficits, and our pattern of energy consumption---and spell out what we need to do now to preserve American power in the world. The end of the Cold War blinded the nation to the need to address these issues seriously, and China's educational successes, industrial might, and technological prowess in many ways remind us of a time when "that used to be us." But Friedman and Mandelbaum show how America's history, when properly understood, offers a five-part formula for prosperity that will enable us to cope successfully with the challenges we face. That Used to Be Us is both a searching exploration of the American condition today and a rousing manifesto for American renewal.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“At once enlightened and enlightening...[American society] could use more of the generous responsible spirit Friedman and Mandelbaum recommend.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Thoroughly researched and passionately argued...That Used to Be Us is an important contribution to an intensifying debate, and it deserves the widest possible attention....Compelling.” —The New York Times

“Anyone who cares about America's future---anyone planning to vote in 2012---ought to read this book and hear the authors' compelling case.” —The Christian Science Monitor

“An important and eminently readable book.” —The New York Review of Books

“Touches a nerve...In a country whose politicians are partisan intransigents and whose commentators are more interested in zingers than solutions, it takes courage to be so baldly civic-minded.” —BusinessWeek

David Frum
…a book that is at once enlightened and enlightening. Friedman—not that you need me to tell you this—is a very good reporter…The partnership with Mandelbaum has been fruitful, curbing Friedman's notorious verbal excesses and stiffening the book with extra analytic rigor
—The New York Times Book Review
Walter Russell Mead
…a thoughtful and balanced corrective to critics on the left who believe that our present economic troubles demonstrate the fundamental failure of the liberal democratic capitalist ideas on which American society is built, and the critics on the right who believe that only a return to 19th-century small government policies can save us…Few readers will agree with every observation and argument in this thoroughly researched and passionately argued book, but all of them should find That Used to Be Us compelling, engaging and enlightening.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Reflecting on America's past greatness and its slipping position among global powers, Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times columnist Friedman (The World is Flat) and foreign policy expert Mandelbaum (The Frugal Superpower) warn against the United States' "dangerous complacency" in the face of increasingly complex global challenges. They repeat a question first posed by Bill Gates ("What was all that good stuff we had that other people copied?") and prescribe a set of sensible government practices for prosperity: invest in public education and infrastructure, foster immigration and scientific research, and set up effective financial regulation. The rapid upheaval of the Arab Spring exemplifies the dynamism of today's intertwined world ("Flat World 2.0"), where ideas and innovation—not goods or skills—are an individual or country's top economic commodities. American workers must approach the global marketplace with creativity in order to remain globally competitive. To that end, they also support reigning in the national debt and committing to the use of alternative energy sources. Broad ranging in its anecdotes and research, conversational (if pedantic) in its tone, and hopeful in its patriotism, they look the challenges of the 21st century squarely in the eye. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Globalization. Infotech shake-up. Out-of-control energy consumption. Lasting deficits. The four big problems we're not grappling with, according to three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Friedman (The World Is Flat) and Mandelbaum, director of the American Foreign Policy program at Johns Hopkins. Here they analyze the problems and offer some solutions, including the revival of our core values (okay, vague) and establishment of a third party. Sure to grab attention, given Friedman's rep, and get the debate going.
Kirkus Reviews

A comprehensive but unoriginal look at the challenges America faces in 2011 and beyond.

New York Timescolumnist 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781250013729
Publisher:
Picador
Publication date:
08/21/2012
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
110,509
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction: Growing Up in America

A reader might ask why two people who have devoted their careers to writing about foreign affairs—one of us as a foreign correspondent and columnist at The New York Times and the other as a professor of American foreign policy at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies—have collaborated on a book about the American condition today. The answer is simple. We have been friends for more than twenty years, and in that time hardly a week has gone by without our discussing some aspect of international relations and American foreign policy. But in the last couple of years, we started to notice some- thing: Every conversation would begin with foreign policy but end with domestic policy—what was happening, or not happening, in the United States. Try as we might to redirect them, the conversations kept coming back to America and our seeming inability today to rise to our greatest challenges.

This situation, of course, has enormous foreign policy implications. America plays a huge and, more often than not, constructive role in the world today. But that role depends on the country’s social, political, and economic health. And America today is not healthy—economically or politically. This book is our effort to explain how we got into that state and how we get out of it.

We beg the reader’s indulgence with one style issue. At times, we include stories, anecdotes, and interviews that involve only one of us. To make clear who is involved, we must, in effect, quote ourselves: “As Tom recalled . . .” “As Michael wrote . . .” You can’t simply say “I said” or “I saw” when you have a co-authored book with a lot of reporting in it.

Readers familiar with our work know us mainly as authors and commentators, but we are also both, well, Americans. That is important, because that identity drives the book as much as our policy interests do. So here are just a few words of introduction from each of us—not as experts but as citizens.

Tom: I was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and was raised in a small suburb called St. Louis Park—made famous by the brothers Ethan and Joel Coen in their movie A Serious Man, which was set in our neighbor- hood. Senator Al Franken, the Coen brothers, the Harvard political philosopher Michael J. Sandel, the political scientist Norman Ornstein, the longtime NFL football coach Marc Trestman, and I all grew up in and around that little suburb within a few years of one another, and it surely had a big impact on all of us. In my case, it bred a deep optimism about America and the notion that we really can act collectively for the common good.

In 1971, the year I graduated from high school, Time magazine had a cover featuring then Minnesota governor Wendell Anderson holding up a fish he had just caught, under the headline “The Good Life in Minnesota.” It was all about “the state that works.” When the senators from your childhood were the Democrats Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, and Eugene McCarthy, your congressmen were the moderate Republicans Clark MacGregor and Bill Frenzel, and the leading corporations in your state—Dayton’s, Target, General Mills, and 3M—were pioneers in corporate social responsibility and believed that it was part of their mission to help build things like the Tyrone Guthrie Theater, you wound up with a deep conviction that politics really can work and that there is a viable political center in American life.

I attended public school with the same group of kids from K through 12. In those days in Minnesota, private schools were for kids in trouble. Private school was pretty much unheard of for middle-class St. Louis Park kids, and pretty much everyone was middle-class. My mom en- listed in the U.S. Navy in World War II, and my parents actually bought our home thanks to the loan she got through the GI Bill. My dad, who never went to college, was vice president of a company that sold ball bearings. My wife, Ann Friedman, was born in Marshalltown, Iowa, and was raised in Des Moines. To this day, my best friends are still those kids I grew up with in St. Louis Park, and I still carry around a mental image—no doubt idealized—of Minnesota that anchors and informs a lot of my political choices. No matter where I go—London, Beirut, Jerusalem, Washington, Beijing, or Bangalore—I’m always looking to rediscover that land of ten thousand lakes where politics actually worked to make people’s lives better, not pull them apart. That used to be us. In fact, it used to be my neighborhood.

 

Michael: While Tom and his wife come from the middle of the country, my wife, Anne Mandelbaum, and I grew up on the two coasts—she in Manhattan and I in Berkeley, California. My father was a professor of anthropology at the University of California, and my mother, after my two siblings and I reached high school age, became a public school teacher and then joined the education faculty at the university that we called, simply, Cal.

Although Berkeley has a reputation for political radicalism, during my childhood in the 1950s it had more in common with Tom’s Minneapolis than with the Berkeley the world has come to know. It was more a slice of Middle America than a hotbed of revolution. As amazing as it may seem today, for part of my boyhood it had a Republican mayor and was represented by a Republican congressman.

One episode from those years is particularly relevant to this book. It occurred in the wake of the Soviet Union’s 1957 launching of Sputnik, the first Earth-orbiting satellite. The event was a shock to the United States, and the shock waves reached Garfield Junior High School (since renamed after Martin Luther King Jr.), where I was in seventh grade. The entire student body was summoned to an assembly at which the principal solemnly informed us that in the future we all would have to study harder, and that mathematics and science would be crucial.

Given my parents’ commitment to education, I did not need to be told that school and studying were important. But I was impressed by the gravity of the moment. I understood that the United States faced a national challenge and that everyone would have to contribute to meeting it. I did not doubt that America, and Americans, would meet it. There is no going back to the 1950s, and there are many reasons to be glad that that is so, but the kind of seriousness the country was capable of then is just as necessary now.

We now live and work in the nation’s capital, where we have seen first- hand the government’s failure to come to terms with the major challenges the country faces. But although this book’s perspective on the present is gloomy, its hopes and expectations for the future are high. We know that America can meet its challenges. After all, that’s the America where we grew up.

Thomas L. Friedman

Michael Mandelbaum

Bethesda, Maryland, June 2011

 THAT USED TO BE US © 2011 by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum

Meet the Author

Thomas L. Friedman is an internationally renowned author, reporter, and columnist—the recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes and the author of five bestselling books, among them From Beirut to Jerusalem and The World Is Flat.

He was born in Minneapolis in 1953, and grew up in the middle-class Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. He graduated from Brandeis University in 1975 with a degree in Mediterranean studies, attended St. Antony's College, Oxford, on a Marshall Scholarship, and received an M.Phil. degree in modern Middle East studies from Oxford.

After three years with United Press International, he joined The New York Times, where he has worked ever since as a reporter, correspondent, bureau chief, and columnist. At the Times, he has won three Pulitzer Prizes: in 1983 for international reporting (from Lebanon), in 1988 for international reporting (from Israel), and in 2002 for his columns after the September 11th attacks.

Friedman's first book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, won the National Book Award in 1989. His second book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization (1999), won the Overseas Press Club Award for best book on foreign policy in 2000. In 2002 FSG published a collection of his Pulitzer Prize-winning columns, along with a diary he kept after 9/11, as Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11. His fourth book, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (2005) became a #1 New York Times bestseller and received the inaugural Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award in November 2005. A revised and expanded edition was published in hardcover in 2006 and in 2007. The World Is Flat has sold more than 4 million copies in thirty-seven languages.

In 2008 he brought out Hot, Flat, and Crowded, which was published in a revised edition a year later. His sixth book, That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, co-written with Michael Mandelbaum, was published in September 2011.

Michael Mandelbaum, the Christian A. Herter Professor and Director of American Foreign Policy at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, is the author or coauthor of twelve books, including The Ideas That Conquered the World.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Washington, D.C. area
Date of Birth:
July 20, 1953
Place of Birth:
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Education:
B.A. in Mediterranean Studies, Brandeis University, 1975; M.A. in Modern Middle East Studies, Oxford University, 1978
Website:
http://www.thomaslfriedman.com/

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That Used to Be Us 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 68 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The hardest part of reading this book was setting aside preconceived notions in order to fairly analyze what Friedman and Mandelbaum clearly lay out. The authors stick fairly close to centrist ideas though some political leanings come through in their choice of examples and descriptions. While the presentation of problems and solutions are the opinions of the authors, they come across in an honest, credible manner. Whether you agree or disagree with the content, there is no doubt this book is thought provoking and intellectually challenging especially if you are worried about the future of the US.
RolfDobelli More than 1 year ago
In this self-styled ¿wake-up call and pep talk,¿ award-winning journalist Thomas L. Friedman and professor and foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum offer their diagnosis of what they see as America¿s decline and set out some ideas to arrest its fall. In the first part, they largely succeed, detailing with illustrative, eye-opening stories and studies the depth of the problems Americans have ignored for too long: globalization, technology, national debt and climate change. However, they lose some steam in their prescriptive section where the challenges they outline seem to call for more than a pep talk ¿ although their ideas are worth considering and are great fodder for debates on real issues. Be prepared: Parts of this book make you want to cry; others make you want to scream; some pages do both. getAbstract suggests this bestseller to those in education, business and the public sector who want to understand the magnitude of America¿s challenges before rolling up their sleeves and getting to work on solutions.
fred1924 More than 1 year ago
Comments about Friedman & Mandelbaum’s book titled: “That used to be us” Much of the book describes the severe problems of our economy, our politics, industry and educational system. At the same time, much space is devoted to well known USA accomplishments in the past, and rightfully so. Space is also devoted to how often foreign people do a much better job today than Americans in areas such as education and economic growth, not to forget financial management. All true. The authors’ dearest wishes are for America to learn from their observations and in particular accept the fact that in their view of the modern world it would be essential for the USA to make the Government, much more of a real partner in business to become broadly competitive again. Clearly, that last part might cause very serious problems with those who believe that as little government as possible is preferable. Government should be supportive of a free market economy but not a competitor and player. Since Government assets and power greatly exceeds the business community’s resources it would not take long for us to end up like any other socialist Republic in the world. That’s not how we got to be who we are. Many people today, unfortunately, are not aware of it. Furthermore and unfortunately, the authors appear to be unqualified in matters of general physics and particularly in their attempt to make green energy and other hair-brained energy schemes basic elements of their recommendations to achieve a more promising future. In reality, it puts some of their energy related recommendations off the table. Plentiful and eventually cheap energy, from fossil fuels to nuclear and hydro and geothermal will take care of our future for at least the next 100 years. The lesson here is to let the energy industry keep us in a surplus energy condition and not allow the Government to waste billions of tax payer’s money on ill conceived green energy plots. As a graduate engineer I appreciate that neither carbon dioxide nor ocean acidification is likely to cause us problems for a very long time, if ever. The Chapter on education is the most challenging in my view and describes some of the currently active and innovative approaches to achieving serious improvements in the knowledge levels of teenagers and college students. Without achieving that, college level education is really a waste of money and time and will do nothing to make these youngsters more employable. What disappoints me in the book though is the lack of a common thread running through the issues that contributed to if not caused our current below-par condition as a nation of historically well-educated and clear thinking Americans. In my opinion that thread is our cultural demise during the past 60 years. Ask yourself, where is the spirit of hard work, at a job or in school? Where is the famous American habit of shaking hands on a deal without a 50 page legal document to back it up? Why is it that so few people really know the basics of our national history? This deplorable condition allows schools to teach that American culture is no better or worse than anyone else’s. Which is a preposterous affront to teach, of course, but indicative of our problems. In my view these are some of the aspects that caused our current political, educational and economic condition. The authors recognize our practical national problem and they believe, notwithstanding the contrary evidence, that we still have enough guts, skills, drive, imagination and assets to get us out of this box to a better future. I hope they are right. Frankly, I am not so sure, for the simple reason that the cultural deficiencies at the root of our problem are also the hardest and most challenging aspects of our national existence to repair. The book closes on a positive note but at the same time may mislead us in thinking that our challenge is just “another job” we have to perform to be back in shape again soon instead of the existential attempt it really is at recapturing our critical and unique national dynamics of exceptionalism and the world’s “least offensive policeman”. Frederik Engel 3/4/2012
Jules3 More than 1 year ago
Normally when I read books like this I am snoozing halfway through but this one kept my attention. This book covers both our weaknesses and our strengths but this country is quickly slipping while our political leaders are basically ineffective. America has been able to do great things when our backs are against the wall but we need to wake up...NOW!!! Read this and get inspired!!!
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Sits down and waits
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Im quitting rp. Btw...should i get this book? It sounds really good..
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It's fareasier to dissect and analyze Humpty's fall from grace than to put him back together again. The book is a great analysis, but solutions?? Not so much.
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