February 2004

David Harris

nonfiction

What Every American Should Know About the Rest of the World by M. L. Rossi

I have only one remaining memory of watching the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Atlanta from the other side of the world. It isn’t who performed the songs, nor what sort of stage show in the round thrilled the audience. The one memory I have is that when athletes from Georgia came out into the stadium, they received the second loudest round of applause and cheers, following only the United States of America.

I vacillated between amusement and embarrassed cringing for the audience. I realized that the majority of those in the state of Georgia, USA, had so little knowledge of the world that they didn’t even realize that there was country called a Georgia. Nor was there a logical disconnect about there being (in their minds) a representative team from their home state in an international competition.

In the past few years, a few Americans have realized that there are countries beyond the USA’s borders and some of them aren’t Canada and Mexico. Unfortunately, it has taken calamitous events on American soil to provoke this reaction. But how is a newly energized US citizen, keen to know what is going on, to find out about these mystical sounding places like Somalia, Kashmir, Rwanda, Uzbekistan and Iraq?

There are many “World Fact Books,” but most are so dry that you wouldn’t choose to read them unless you really had to. Even then, you’d dip into them to get the piece of information you sought and then close the covers. That situation has changed with Melissa Rossi’s guide for the perplexed. Not only is it a useful and accessible source book, it makes for entertaining reading.

Rossi is truly a citizen of the world. She believes herself a member of a global community that has responsibilities for all of its parts. Yet she admits that she didn’t know enough about all the places that should be relevant to us, despite having traveled in many of them. And so she started to seek the information that was vital to understanding the news reported on television and in the papers. She didn’t just want to know the bare facts -– she wanted to understand how citizens of one country felt about those of another. What are their desires, their fears, their jealousies and their antipathies?

With a quest to understand more, Rossi compiled the information she dug out from a multitude of sources and put them together as a book for fellow world citizens who needed a little extra help in piecing together the bigger picture.

Her book is a vital resource not only for citizens of the US but for all those interested in how world affairs impact on the rest of us. It is well organized so you can find the information you need quickly. The first section is devoted to the countries that are the “tickers” -- global hotspots ready to explode at any time. The areas are grouped sensibly: Israel with Palestine, Kashmir with India and Pakistan. By arranging them logically, their interactions are much easier to understand than if the countries each had their own chapter without the important back and forth between their points-of-view.

Other sections on “slow tickers” and “talkers” cover the rest of the globe according to their likely impact on world affairs. The book is rounded out with a section on “the big picture” in which continent-level affairs are discussed, and then specific issues are discussed from a global perspective.

Many Americans will feel uncomfortable about how their country is presented in the book but only because they are infamously unprepared to take a critical look at themselves. Understanding global criticisms of the US is vital to understanding world affairs and Rossi is unapologetic about this approach. This is not to say the book is an anti-American diatribe -– far from it. Every country is criticized for its failings as a member of the world community, but the advantages of each are also shown, especially as they relate to how other countries could be envious.

Rossi does include her own opinions but separates them into breakout sections by the “Armchair Diplomat." She keeps a sense of humor throughout, but never diminishes the seriousness of her task. These features make the book easy to read in large sections, even though she recommends dipping in and out of it.

For those inspired to more, Rossi includes recommendations of ten things you can do to combat the greatest dangers currently facing Americans -- complacence and ignorance. Her recommendations are sensible and start with gaining a better understanding of the world, including going outside the limited US perspective. She provides plenty of suggestions for resources ranging from the internet to magazines to radio programs. And seeing as the world changes, she includes updates and extra information on her website The Armchair Diplomat.

Most importantly, Rossi gives us motivation to break out of our insular bubble and start living as part of a world that has a rich texture that can be of great benefit to us all.

What Every American Should Know About the Rest of the World by M. L. Rossi
Plume
ISBN: 0452284058
400 pages