Andy Ferguson reviews That Used to Be Us, written by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Madnelbaum, in today's Wall Street Journal:
'That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back" is a landmark in American popular literature: It is the first book by Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times columnist and mega-best-selling author of "The World Is Flat," "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" and so on, in which an alert reader can go whole paragraphs—whole pages, in a few instances—without fighting the impulse to chuck it across the room.
As a writer, Mr. Friedman is best known for his galloping assaults on Strunk and White's Rule No. 9: "Do Not Affect a Breezy Manner." "The World Is Flat" & Co. were cyclones of breeziness, mixing metaphors by the dozens and whipping up slang and clichés and jokey catchphrases of the author's own invention. (The flattened world was just the beginning.) The breeziness would accelerate into great gusts of rhetoric about "an America we could be . . . an America we once were . . . an America we can be again," as though the author were poking fun at a slightly drunk Ted Sorensen.
In "That Used to Be Us," the method has been slightly altered. It would be going too far to describe the writing as "subdued," but its relative readability marks a break with its predecessors. How to explain it? My guess is that we can thank Mr. Friedman's co-author, Michael Mandelbaum. A close friend of Mr. Friedman, he is the author of many normal, un-Friedmanlike books, including "The Meaning of Sports." ("Delightful"—Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times.)