Conversations with friends can quickly lead to  book recommendations. A discussion of Tom Friedman’s That Used To Be Us, resulted in  a recommendation and  a gift copy of Robert Wright’s  NON ZERO SUM THE LOGIC OF HUMAN DESTINY. 

Heavy duty subject? Yes indeed! However, Wright presents the subject matter in a logical and understandable progression.  The basic  premise is that throughout the development of civilization, Non- Zero Sum cooperation, just the opposite of  Zero- Sum with only winners and losers, is what advanced our civilization from savages, barbarians, chiefdoms and tribes to a cooperative civilization.  Take a look at this quote from Wright. “Judging by history, the current turbulence will eventually yield to an era of relative stability, an era when global political, economic and social structures have largely tamed the new forms of chaos. The world will reach a new equilibrium. Or on the other hand, we could blow up the world.”

Or, “As history progresses, humans find themselves playing non-zero-sum games. Interdependence expands, and social complexity grows in scope and depth.”

“Innovate or die! Population density drives technological and social development not by creating opportunities, but by creating problems. Problems that must be solved  for the greater good!”

Not at all unlike many of Tom Friedman’s theories so ably expressed in The World is Flat,  Hot Flat and Crowded. and That Used To Be Us. Wright, like Friedman has the ability to take sweeping concepts and break them down into logical elements. He outlines how throughout history  man has managed to turn acute need and chaos into opportunity, not with a Zero-Sum  I win you lose approach, but with the concept of working together for a common good or what he calls Non-Zero!

Non-Zero is a tremendous exploration of how we have become who we are and the implication is clearly that the evolution of our civilization as a cooperative society will play a key role in what we become. 

Zero -Sum has no winners! With Non-Zero  everyone can win.  There are  many lessons here , especially in today’s political climate domestically and around the globe. If you have a friend in the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate send them a copy!


I am 100 pages short of finishing Tom Friedman’s and Michael Mandelbaum’s new book That Used To Be Us. How America Fell Behind In The World It Invented and How We Can Come Back. However, after reading Tom’s opinion column in today’s ( October 9, 2011 New York Times) I feel compelled to get the word to you right away. 

 The column title Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio? poses the conundrum  that Friedman and Mandelbaum answer in their carefully crafted and researched book.  Anyone who is vested in figuring out what is wrong with America  ( aren’t we all?), and what we need to do to fix it, is encouraged to read this book now.  THAT USED TO BE US  is  about the important national dialogue being played out in print, over the air, in Washington DC  and now in the streets!  It will not go away. The book is not about philosophy but rather solutions! This quote from Friedman’s  New York Times Op-Ed  truly sets the agenda for That Used To Be Us.

“We cannot bail or tax-cut our way to prosperity. We can only, as  ( Steve) Jobs understood, invent our way there. That is why America needs to be for the world in the 21st century what Cape Canaveral was to American the 1960s: the place where everyone everywhere should want to come to start-up and make something — something that makes people’s lives more productive, healthy, comfortable, entertained, educated or secure. To do that, we need to reinvigorate our traditional formula for success — quality education and infrastructure, open immigration, the right rules to incentivize risk-taking and government-financed scientific research.”

That Used  To Be Us is worthy as a stand alone Tom Friedman read but it is even more compelling if you have read his The World is Flat (2005) and Hot Flat and Crowded. (2008)

All of Friedman’s work is a reasoned approach to identifying problems and pointing to proven and in many cases obvious solutions.  Michael Mandelbaum adds to the excellence in this new volume. Both authors  spare no individual, political party or company in bringing issues to the feet of those responsible for our problems and giving due credit  in recognition of wisdom.

When I have finished the last 100-pages I will be even more impressed  but having completed 256 and today reading Tom’s Op Ed  I am compelled to post this blog today!