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

Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum




Trade Paperback

432 Pages



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Longlisted for the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
A Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year
A St. Louis Post-Dispatch Best Book of the Year
A Sunday Telegraph Best Book of the Year

America has a huge problem. It faces four major challenges, on which its future depends, and it is failing to meet them. In That Used to Be Us, Thomas L. Friedman, one of our most influential columnists, and Michael Mandelbaum, one of our leading foreign policy thinkers, offer both a wake-up call and a call to collective action. They analyze the four challenges we face—globalization, the revolution in information technology, the nation's chronic deficits, and its pattern of energy consumption—and spell out what we need to do now to sustain the American dream and preserve American power in the world.

They explain how the end of the Cold War blinded the nation to the need to address these issues seriously, and how China's educational successes, industrial might and technological prowess remind us of the ways in which "that used to be us". They explain how the paralysis of our political system and the erosion of key American values have made it impossible for us to carry out the policies the country urgently needs. They offer a way out of the trap into which the country has fallen, which includes the rediscovery of some of our most valuable traditions and the creation of a new, third-party movement.

And yet, Friedman and Mandelbaum believe that the recovery of American greatness is within reach. They 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. They offer vivid profiles of individuals who have not lost sight of the American habits of bold thought and dramatic action. They propose a clear way out of the trap into which the country has fallen, a way that includes the rediscovery of some of our most vital traditions and the creation of a new third-party movement to galvanize the country.


Praise for That Used to Be Us

"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

"In That Used to Be Us Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum join a growing number of foreign policy thinkers warning that America's position abroad cannot endure without a renewal of the domestic sources of American prosperity and strength . . . [The book] represents an effort by Mr. Mandelbaum, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and one of the country's leading public intellectuals, and Mr. Friedman, a columnist for The New York Times whose three Pulitzer Prizes only hint at the global influence of his work, to describe the rocky conditions of the present day and prescribe a way forward. This may be an American crisis, but as Mr. Friedman and Mr. Mandelbaum eloquently explain, it is not just an American concern. Nor is it simply a matter of improving the living standards of future generations in this country. Because of the unique—and at this point irreplaceable—American role in providing important public services across the globe, the world as a whole will become a much poorer and more dangerous place if Americans fail at the task of national renewal. The authors provide 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. The principles behind our society, they argue, are broadly correct, but without institutional reform we cannot apply them as fairly or as fully as we should . . . As American politics looks increasingly dysfunctional, Mr. Friedman and Mr. Mandelbaum show great courage in casting aside conventional assumptions. 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."—Walter Russell Mead, The New York Times

"Masterful... This book should elicit a significant national response—an outcry even—from the American people who understand that moments like these in history demand action and leadership . . . Very important and timely."—Peter Sims, Reuters

"Tom Friedman [and Michael Mandelbaum] nailed it . . . If you care about where we are as a country and how we can do better, read this book!"—Matt Blumberg, Business Insider

"Before we accept some inevitability of our decline, before we determine we are poweriess in the face of it all—let's exhaust all the tools we have available, tap all the brightest minds, and arm ourselves with the enlightenment that comes from educating ourselves . . . [The authors do] not underestimate our challenges nor [do they] think it will be easy, but [they do] offer plans and ideas. And as always, [they are] engaging [and] practical."—Roxanne Coady, The Daily Beast

"Outstanding . . . Significant . . . This book is aimed at all Americans . . . Friedman has a well-earned reputation for taking what is complex and abstract and explaining it simply—not simplistically—to make it comprehensible without writing down to the reader. The result is a blessing."—Robert M. Knight, The Washington Independent Review of Books

"Friedman and Mandelbaum . . . caution, in calm, moderate language, that haggling over exceptionalism in political debate does nothing to move the political process toward the goals that would re-establish America's unique role in the world . . . [They] have done a commendable job of framing the issues confronting America and suggesting how we can lower our voices and restore reason and sanity to public debate."—Repps Hudson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"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."—Business Week

"The erudite authors offer straight forward plans of action for preserving the American Dream and keeping our country's status as the world's No. 1 power."—Sacramento Bee

"Provides an excellent analysis of four major challenges for America today . . . Every citizen should read this book . . . At stake is the future of our children and grandchildren."—John Hennigan, Athens (Georgia) Banner-Herald

"[Friedman and Mandelbaum are] neither doomsters nor declinists . . . Vigorously argued and vividly written, the book is both a blast of anger and an action programme."—George Walden, London Evening Standard

"Keenly relevant . . . A searing view of the condition of America today and the need for evolution in order to survive and excel in the global community . . . That Used to Be Us has much to add to a national discussion; and calls on policymakers to wake up to the new reality and Americans to pull together and work as one."—The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Virginia)

"Demonstrates that rekindling America's role as beacon to the world is a matter of reawakening key values important to past generations . . . An important 'how-to' book for our nation's political elite and its vast middle-of-the-road electorate eager to see their priorities and vision return to the political agendas of their representatives and government."—Bob Kustra and the Reader's Corner team, The Idaho Statesman (Boise)

"A book that is being widely read by senior politicians on both sides of the Atlantic . . . [That Used to Be Us] offers [reassurance] that governments are not powerless in the face of a gathering storm."—Matthew d'Ancona, The Daily Telegraph

"[Friedman] and Mandelbaum, two of the few adults in the room, create, first, a realistic portrait of today's global economy and then a workable plan by which Americans might thrive in this new world they've helped invent."—Alan Moores, Booklist (starred review)

"This is a book of exceptional importance, written on a sweeping scale with remarkable clarity by two of our most gifted thinkers . . . It should be read by policymakers and every American concerned about our country's future."—Elizabeth L. Winter, Library Journal (starred review)



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...

Read the full excerpt



  • On Charlie Rose

    Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum visit Charlie Rose to talk about their new book.

  • Thomas Friedman in Melbourne, Australia

    Thomas Friedman in conversation with Maxine McKew at the Wheeler Centre, Melbourne, Australia.

  • In Studio: Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum

    The authors read an excerpt from their book, That Used To Be Us.

  • That Used to Be Us by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum--Audiobook Excerpt

    Listen to this audiobook excerpt from That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum. America is in trouble. We face four major challenges on which our future depends, and we are failing to meet them—and if we delay any longer, soon it will be too late for us to pass along the American dream to future generations.

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  • Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum

  • Thomas L. Friedman is an internationally renowned author, reporter, and columnist—the recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes and the author of five bestselling books, including From Beirut to Jerusalem and The World Is Flat. Friedman lives in Bethesda, Maryland with his family.

    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 and coauthor of twelve books, including The Ideas that Conquered the World.

  • Thomas L. Friedman Ralph Alswang
    Thomas L. Friedman
  • Michael Mandelbaum © Anne Mandelbaum




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