My office desk is large and sturdy, economically adjusted to suit a person of my height and constructed by world-class Swedish engineers from the finest mock hardwood and real steel. Yet, lately it has been groaning audibly. The reason is simple: the desk is burdened not just by the usual pile of half-read books and exam papers; it carries the additional weight of a good-sized library on globalization, sorted roughly into about a dozen wavering stacks. These books, which comprise only a small fraction of the total number of volumes dealing with globalization and transnationalism since around 1990 (as well as a few older ones), form the bulk of the source material used to write this book — one is reminded of the old saying about a scholar being a library's means to create another library — together with countless journal articles, newspaper clippings, downloaded texts and a reasonable collection of personal observations. Even to begin to summarize the contents of each book and every important article would be a hopeless, endless (and rather boring) job. And then there are all the other texts, which I haven't read and probably never will. I am reminded of my countryman Tor Åge Bringsværd's short story about the man who collected the first of September, 1972. Realizing that it would be impossible ever to acquire an overview of everything, he decided to narrow his ambitions, and to become an expert on one single day, namely the first of September. However, the project soon required him to learn new languages, to order tapes of Russian radio broadcasts and late editions of Brazilian newspapers. Of course, although he was at it for years, the poor man went insane long before he was done.
As I began to take notes for this book in February 2006, pondering where to begin to tackle globalization — a topic that is huge in every way — an event in the outside world came to my rescue, as is so often the case with us academics. I had just been reading two very different books about globalization. The American journalist Thomas Friedman, in his ambitious The World is Flat (Friedman 2005), described an increasingly integrated world market where 'the playing field had been levelled' in the sense that Indian, Chinese, North Atlantic and other companies were competing with few impediments: his integrated world was a place where capitalism had won and where the fittest would survive, like it or not. Worrying about the future of the