Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—And How It Can Renew America
by Thomas L. Friedman
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28)

Americans need to stop thinking about the times we live in as the “post–Cold War era,” says New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. The central international challenge of our century can be readily defined, and not even the “war on terror” begins to address it. Rampant consumption of fossil fuels is superheating the planet’s atmosphere and igniting costly conflicts over crude oil, potable water, and other limited resources. In a world “flattened” by globalization, the U.S. can’t drill its way out of the problem, or retreat from it. The continued growth of the world’s energy-hungry middle classes, Friedman says, guarantees that the demand for carbon-based fuels will continue to generate havoc until someone develops alternative technologies capable of supporting middle-class lifestyles.

Friedman’s good news in Hot, Flat, and Crowded is that America is well positioned to transform this global crisis into a new golden era of national wealth, said Stephen Kotkin in The New York Times. He never adequately explains why our enviable army of engineers and entrepreneurs has failed so far to achieve a breakthrough on alternative energy or energy conservation. But he’s convinced that they will be able to—if only government can structure the incentives wisely. Given Friedman’s enormous popularity among readers, said Garrett M. Graff in, Crowded “is sure to bigfoot its way” into this fall’s presidential campaign conversation. If John McCain and Barack Obama aren’t willing to embrace Friedman’s notion that Washington must mount a coordinated national assault on the energy problem, they’ll be asked to explain why not.

One reason they could give is that government has never been good at sorting winners from losers when it comes to innovation, said Gregg Easterbrook in What’s more, in a world beset by poverty, disease, dictatorships, and nuclear proliferation, man-made global warming might not even qualify for “the Problem Top 10.” The alarm Friedman intends to sound is also muffled by his innate optimism, said Michelle Goldberg in The New York Observer. In the second half of Crowded, he “imagines a future where, with the right innovations, life in America will be even more convenient, even more full of cool gadgets and easy motoring.” If technological revolution were truly that easy, “we’d have cured both cancer and AIDS by now.”