Welcome to American Profiles, VOA's weekly spotlight on Americans who are making a positive difference in how we think, live and act. VOA's Rosanne Skirble introduces us to Thomas Friedman, a foreign policy analyst, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and best-selling author whose works have explored some of the most urgent issues of our time.
Born in 1955, Thomas Friedman grew up in a Jewish family in the midwestern city of Minneapolis. He says the greatest influence on his early life was a remarkable high school journalism teacher named Hattie Steinberg. "She got me excited about journalism," he says.
It was the same year he went to Israel for the first time. "Those two passions have converged ever since," Friedman says.
As a boy, Friedman was curious and assertive. He wrote for his high school newspaper and published an article based on an interview with Israeli General Ariel Sharon, who later went on to become Israel's prime minister.
In 1978, after college and a graduate degree in Middle East studies, Friedman started his journalism career with United Press International in London. A year later, he joined The New York Times as a financial reporter specializing in the oil industry.
Friedman moved on to Beirut in 1982 to head The New York Times bureau there. Later, he headed up the paper's Jerusalem bureau, a post he held until 1988. During his Middle East posting, Friedman developed a writing style that he calls "clean, unfiltered news." He says he lives by the motto, "If you don't go, you don't know."
"You have to see things," he says. "You have to talk to people, listen to what people have to say."
Back in the United States in 1989, Friedman wrote From Beirut to Jerusalem, an account of his coverage of the conflict in the Middle East. The book won the National Book Award and was a best seller for more than a year. Friedman says he believed then, as he does now, that the key to Middle East peace is the creation of a Palestinian state.
"It is just getting the will and the leadership to get us there," he says.
In the mid-1990s, he began a twice-weekly foreign affairs column. That column now appears in 700 newspapers worldwide and has won him the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting three times. He says he gets to be a tourist with an attitude. "I get to go wherever I want, talk to whoever I want, write whatever I want in The New York Times," he says.
Friedman has written five books on topics ranging from the conflict in the Middle East to globalization and terrorism. His most recent book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, debuted in September 2008 as number one on The New York Times Best Seller's List.
In it, he says many countries have adopted consuming habits much like America.
"They are consuming oil, food, energy at American levels," he says, which is linked to the problem of global climate change.
Speaking recently at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, Friedman called for what he terms a "green revolution." He says the engine for this worldwide environmental transformation will be the development of clean energy technologies that could lessen the burden of global warming. (Click to view video of event.)
Friedman wants to turn away from capital-intensive power plants and dirty fuels. He writes that the future doesn't have to be a nightmare. As he puts it, "If we think strategically about how to mitigate what we can, adapt to what we can't and innovate our way to new possibilities that right now seem unimaginable."
Friedman remembers when the United States and the former Soviet Union were engaged in a space race to put the first man on the moon.
"What we need actually today is an Earth race with China and India and Europe to see who can invent the clean powered, energy technologies that will allow men and women to live on Earth," he says. "We have exactly enough time, starting now!"
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