Everything by Malcolm Gladwell
I won’t have to think twice about calling Malcolm Gladwell my absolute favorite contemporary non-fiction writer and journalist. A man with a slender build and elegant features framed by a halo of curly brown hair, he describes himself as a skinny Canadian. But in the world of literature he is a real heavyweight. Every book he has written so far is a masterpiece in terms of both contents and form, and it invariably leaves you better than it found you. From a collection of ordinary things he whips up a miracle, from little-known facts he extracts the most valuable of lessons, from personal interviews and public records he draws a long arc through history—all to help you see the truths that have been lost, overlooked or misunderstood. It feels like magic.
Malcolm Gladwell has lent his brilliant mind to a surprisingly broad variety of subjects. In The Tipping Point he explores what makes ideas go viral. In Blink he examines the power of snap decisions. Outliers is about everything that goes into individual success (including his own). What the Dog Saw lets you see the world through the eyes of others and is made up of some of the best articles Gladwell wrote for The New Yorker. David and Goliath is the story of underdogs beating the odds. Each one of these books will make you think about the world differently.
Gladwell’s writing deserves better than to be defined in terms of other people’s works, but I can’t escape a comparison that has been dogging me for years. His books are like Freakonomics with a heart. For all the figures, statistics and scientific evidence, he never loses sight of individual stories. His research never drowns out the voice of humanity. And therein, I think, lies his genius.
Does that come at a cost? Do some of his leaps of reasoning lack the necessary scientific rigor? Sadly, yes and yes. But maybe that’s why it’s so easy to love Malcolm Gladwell. His intelligence is awe-inspiring, yet he is fallible. Just like you and me.
One thing that I couldn’t leave out of this review is the fall in New York City’s crime rate in the 1990s. In Freakonomics Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner offer a surprising resolution to this mystery, suggesting that the sudden drop in crime rate owes a lot to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade a generation earlier. Whether or not they have a point, I’m not so sure. But Malcolm Gladwell sticks to a more conventional interpretation of events and praises broken windows policing. I feel really disappointed about this.
Before I finish, there’s something else I need to tell you about—that jarring E flat power chord that drives me crazy and everything that comes after it. I’m talking about Revisionist History, of course, the podcast that Gladwell started in 2016. Each episode could have been a chapter, and each season the next bestselling hit. But the audio format affords something that no book can. The people in his stories are no longer mere characters—they live and breathe, they talk to you, they take you for a ride. And as you relive some of the most memorable—yet often the most forgotten—moments in history along with them, there’s a voice speaking in your ear. The voice that guides you and fills you with a spirit of discovery. The voice that can wash over you like a gentle ocean wave and the very next second throw you up in the air in a fit of passion. The voice that makes this experience so much more special. Gladwell’s voice.