Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

Running Kites across a Flat World

What do the follow books have in common?

An open-ended question such as that can lead to a host of responses: non-fiction, best-sellers, boring. I’m kidding with the last one. Indeed, they are all popular non-fiction books, but they are also examples of expository writing. For instance, The World is Flat provides facts in an attempt to explore the thesis that the world has become interconnected to the point that geographic, political, and economic barriers have been flattened, so to speak.

A best-seller missing from that list is The Kite Runner. Of course, The Kite Runner is a novel, and while it makes some historical references, it’s primarily a fictional narrative. One might find narrative interludes in The World is Flat, such as the rise of Wal-Mart, but unlike The Kite Runner, these narratives are based in fact and subservient to the thesis.

A year ago, there was a non-fiction work on The New York Times Best-Sellers List that dealt with a flattening world; however, Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck, in contrast to The World is Flat, is primarily a narrative without an obvious thesis.

Thunderstruck provides a historical account of the birth of wireless communication. Instead of simply telling the story of Marconi and his rivals, Thunderstruck, like The Devil in the White City, intertwines it with a story involving murder. This mixing provides the reader with a richer picture of the era and reveals interesting parallels between the British Empire at the turn of the twentieth century and the United States at the turn of the twenty-first. Without explicitly making the case, the narrative suggests that many of the phenomena described in Friedman’s book are anything but new. If that does not entice a curious reader, one of the chapters features a kite.


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