This summary of Thomas Friedman's career is devastating.

Thomas Friedman earned his BA in Mediterranean Studies in 1975; a few years later he obtained a prestigious Marshall scholarship to study at Oxford, where he earned a Masters in Middle Eastern Studies. By age 26 he was a reporter in Beirut, and at age 29 he had won his first Pulitzer (for up close reporting on a war massacre). He would win another Pulitzer as the New York Times' bureau chief in Jerusalem, and at age 36 would write his first award winning book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, a recapitulation of his years of reporting in those two cities. This put Friedman at the top of the "Middle East hand" pack. That is a nice place to be, but it is still far away from the position of household public intellectual.

To get there Friedman would first transition to reporting from Washington DC as a White House correspondent. A few years later (now at age 41) he would be given a foreign affairs column at the New York Times, moving him a step further into the opinion-business. I attribute his transformation from minor public commentator to Voice of the Zeitgeist to two events: first,  the publishing of The Lexus and the Olive Tree in 1999 (when he was 46 years old),the first of several books that would lay out his theory of globalization; second, the terrorist attacks September 11th, which allowed him to write columns that drew on both his long personal experience in the Middle East and his newer interest in globalization. These were the columns that won him his Pulitzer for commentary in 2002 and made him a central voice in the debates over America's response to the terrorist attacks and the the invasion of Iraq. I place Friedman's peak in his 52nd year, when his most famous book, The World is Flat, was published. It was also around this time that opposition to Friedman was at its peak, with bloggers and columnists alike writing long diatribes against him.

Friedman would close out the decade with another book and three documentaries. These were mostly restatements of his columns (which in turn drew heavily from ideas he first introduced and developed between Lexus and The World if Flat). Friedman was still a part of the national conversation, but his perspective had lost its originality. His columns began to bleed together. This is the era when "Friedman Op-Ed Generators" went viral. Increasingly, Friedman was not argued against so much as joked about. By 2013 or so (just as he was turning 60) Thomas Friedman was done. Not technically so—between then and now he would rack up two more books, hundreds of columns, and heaven knows how many appearances at idea festival panels and business school stages. But intellectually Friedman was a spent force. His writing has been reduced to rehashing old rehashes, his columns the rewarmed leftovers of ideas grown old a decade ago. It is hard to find anything in his more recent books or columns that has mattered. He is able to sell enough books to live comfortably, but you will have difficulty finding anyone under 50 who admits they have read them. Friedman lingers still as a public figure, but not as a public intellectual. His thinking inspires no one. The well has run dry.

Scholar's Stage

hat-tip to Marginal Revolution