“Thank You for Being Late”

Pondering what to do next in retirement: a review of Thomas Friedman’s book.

12/31/22 – Dear Readers,

Happy New Year (almost)!  I retired from tutoring last May at the end of the 2021-2022 school year and have taken a sabbatical since then.  My last post on EduIssues was Reducing the Achievement Gap written over a year ago on 11/26/21.

After a decade of teaching and tutoring following a lengthy career in research, scientific software. biotech informatics and IT, it was time to take a break, get back into decent physical shape (less easy at 69 years old), and ponder my next life phase.

Part of this pondering included my purchase of a Kindle Paperwhite last January.  I did this because, when I inevitably wake up in the middle of the night, it is nice to read on a device that does not tempt me with a million other distractions (which even happens when an iPhone is put in Do Not Disturb Focus mode).  Consequently I have completed reading 14 books this last year, mostly done between 3 – 6 AM, which is a significant increase over years past. (There just might be a significant lesson here for those who want to conduct education on laptops… )

These included the 3 volume autobiography of Bertrand Russell which I first read my freshman year in college and was a tremendous influence during my formative years, as well as “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (also initially read in college), “Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World,” six popular books on modern physics – the best of which was Lee Smolin’s “Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution: The Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum,” and then, switching gears completely, Tom Friedman’s 2016 book “Thank You for Being Late.”

A later article will discuss the results of my pondering, but right now I want to say how impressed I was with Friedman’s book upon finishing it (true to the title, six years late!).  I had actually started reading this book some time ago and unfortunately (in retrospect) put it aside during the first attempt.

Upon finishing the book, I tried to contact the author through his web page at the NY Times (unsurprisingly no response), and then decided to write the following review for Amazon.  You can currently find it at the top of the “Top Reviews” section for that book:

Speaking of “Being Late” six years, if you are looking for something excellent to read, I STRONGLY recommend Thomas Friedman’s “Thank You for Being Late.” First be sure to persevere through a rather slow chapter 1 in which he talks about how he writes his columns in response to an Ethiopian immigrant/political blogger who he meets working in a DC parking garage. The advice that Friedman gives to the blogger is pretty generic, and ignores the obvious fact that his fame from past work as a journalist gives him access to presidents, tech CEOS, celebrities, etc. In fact, this first chapter made me put the book down the first time that I started it which in retrospect was a big mistake.

After chapter 1 the book becomes phenomenally interesting to anyone concerned about the challenges facing the world such as climate change, technological disruptions of both work, society, politics, mass migration problems caused by the above, etc. You might not agree with everything he says, but this is probably the best road map for navigating the future that I have read recently.

Several online reviews on Amazon panned Friedman’s final three chapters on Minnesota, where Friedman grew up, as mere “nostalgia,” but I think the easy habit of cynicism that pervades our country may make some readers completely miss Friedman’s point!!! This final section of the book details how society might respond to the challenges mentioned above. Young people who will be living this future should study this final section carefully.

Friedman provides several concrete examples from both his childhood when Jewish families were integrating with Scandinavians as well as from as recently as 2016 when Somalian war refugees and African-Americans from other cities like Chicago and Detroit moved to his childhood neighborhood. He documents the steps that the local business community, other organizations, and neighborhood groups have taken to forge a new sense of community. He admits that the jury is still out on these efforts and that the problems now are much harder than in his childhood, but the takeaway from all of this is that he presents a path by which we can make a better future IF WE CHOOSE TO DO SO! Rejecting this section as “nostalgia” only guarantees failure.

Finally, I should note that ONLY the paperback version was subsequently updated to version 2 in 2017. The Kindle version (surprisingly!!) as well as the hardcover version are the 2016 release, both of which predate not only the election of Donald Trump, but also the George Floyd tragedy not far from Friedman’s childhood home. The paperback version contains a newer Afterword written in Fall 2017 which I have not read yet, but is too old to have addressed the turmoil following the death of Mr. Floyd. I would really like to hear how Friedman views his final book section now in light of that tragedy.  I would also encourage Amazon to update the Kindle version to version 2!!!

Author: David Kristofferson

Retired Ph.D. scientist, teacher (after retiring from industry, taught in private and public high schools and then worked a decade in my own private tutoring business), bioinformatician (managed both the NIH-funded GenBank National Nucleic Acid Sequence Databank and the BIONET National Computer Resource for Molecular Biology), IT director at Eos and Raven Biotechnologies, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist, and backpacker!

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