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Book Review: That Used to Be Us by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum

Sharp on what ails the U.S., That Used to Be Us falls flat on how to get our mojo back

That Used to Be Us:
How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented
and How We Can Come Back

By Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum
Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 380 pp; $28


First, great title. Slap some American-flag imagery on the cover, call your book That Used to Be Us, and already, you’ve touched a nerve among a populace itchy with downward-mobility anxiety. The words are a lift from a Barack Obama quote about Asia’s advancing techno-industrial might—“We just learned that China now has the fastest supercomputer on Earth; that used to be us,” the President said at a press conference last year—but the broader lament is that America the superpower isn’t super anymore. Massive budget deficits, political gridlock, economic inertia, underperforming schools—this isn’t the thrifty, can-do U.S. that the Greatest Generation grew up in, fought for, and populated with cheery kids in coonskin caps and gingham pinafores.