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That Used to Be Us

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That Used to Be Us

How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

How can America emerge from its economic, political and energy morass?

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Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


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.


Diagnosis: Critical

Americans of all types and stripes know in their gut that something’s wrong with the US. Many share a pervading sense that the nation’s “best days are behind it,” and that the future belongs to emerging powerhouses like China. Americans have become increasingly accustomed to shaking their heads in acceptance and frustration when things go wrong, from the crumbling infrastructure of the country’s bridges and roads to its lagging educational standards, the dearth of jobs and the political deadlock that paralyzes Washington. Even a constantly malfunctioning door handle at the White House seems emblematic of a lack of will to get things done. Americans have become resigned to how the nation is, but they miss the way it “used to be” and who they were: a nation of go-getters who set their sights on seemingly impossible goals and achieved them, of citizens who were capable of “collective action on a large scale.”

Today’s creeping deterioration traces its roots to the end of the Cold War, when the US sat back to savor the victory of capitalism over communism. This self-congratulatory mood blinded the nation’s leaders to the need to adapt to four overriding...

About the Authors

The author of five bestsellers, Thomas L. Friedman is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at The New York Times. Michael Mandelbaum is a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and directs the university’s American Foreign Policy Program.

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