Let Malcolm Gladwell introduce himself:
“If I could vote (and I can’t because I’m Canadian) I would vote Democrat. I am pro-choice and in favor of gay marriage. I believe in God. I think the war in Iraq is a terrible mistake. I am a big believer in free trade. I think, on balance, taxes in America — particularly for rich people — ought to be higher, not lower.
I think smoking is a terrible problem and that cigarette manufacturers ought to be subjected to every possible social and political sanction. But I think that filing product liability lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers is absurd. I am opposed to the death penalty. I hate S.U.V.’s. I think many C.E.O.’s are overpaid. I think there is too much sex and violence on television.” (Taken from a 2006 interview with The New York Times.)
His mother is Jamaican/Jewish/Scottish, his father is English. He was born in England, raised in Elmira, Ontario, and lives in New York City. Being a lighter shade of brown, Malcolm never noticed racism until he grew an afro. University of Toronto is his alma mater where he got a degree in history. Advertising was his ambition, but he settled for journalism. And then he made it big.
The rock-star journalist that you would never expect
Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer for the New Yorker, but his 4 books were his steps to culture-defining glory.
Corporations pay him big dollars to speak at their events, but he’ll still do a TEDtalk for free. Even though he’s been called a rock-star, watch one of his talks and you won’t find a single claim to status.
He actually published 5 books, but one is a collection of essays from the New Yorker. Still, all five books were New York Times Best Sellers. The emergence of an entire genre of non-fiction is attributed to Malcolm.
Malcolm uses academic research and anecdote to build understanding. His books are filled with charts and tables as well as stories of people you’ve never heard of that shaped their environment in astounding ways. Much of the comparisons he draws are unexpected and strange to think of at first. But he always brings examples, data and stories together to form cohesive thoughts.
He’s actually been criticized for oversimplifying complex social issues and for using too much anecdotal evidence. If you read through any of his books, much of his research stems from professionals and academics in any field he’s studying. The stories and experiences Malcolm shares in his books are used to make the data accessible. It’s what gives his writing power.
Malcolm Gladwell fuses the academic with anecdote, making unexpected comparisons that puts muscles on statistics.
A fresh dose of Canadian optimism
In The Tipping Point he proves that even though the world seems immovable, it can be changed “with the slightest push – in just the right place.”
In Blink, he examines our split second decisions, who’s good at them, who’s bad at them and why.
in Outliers, he debunks the myth that success exclusively requires talent.
In David and Goliath, he demonstrates how underdogs actually have an advantage.
All of his writing brings a little hope and optimism back into your world. He tackles complex issues because their persistence can be discouraging. Malcolm believes that if you can understand why certain myths and struggles exist, the world becomes a more malleable place.
“I’m just trying to say that it should reassure us that the inevitable traumas of being human do end up producing some good. Otherwise, the human condition is overwhelmingly depressing,” Malcolm said in an interview with The Guardian.
Malcolm blames this optimism on his Canadian upbringing.
“Canadians like small, modest things, right? We don’t believe in boasting. We think the world is basically a good place. We’re pretty optimistic. We think we ought to take care of each other.”
Tackling heavy issues sideways
Malcolm goes after the tough stuff: school shootings, religious fanaticism, why Twitter isn’t activism, how the NFL is essentially running a dogfight, the role of race in society from his personal history, and plagiarism.
He faces each issue from unexpected angles, but he always comes out making more sense than most experts interviewed on national news.
Stories are told carefully, but they keep your attention. Partly because you want to know how one experience could possibly relate to the next. In the end you’re left with enough material to impress everyone at the next party you go to.
Beyond boosting social status, the ideas Malcolm presents have inspired action in many areas, from CEOs improving company culture, to philanthropists creating grants to fund thousands of libraries, schools and non-profits.
No matter what you do with what you’ve read, each Gladwell essay or book will leave you with a better understanding of life around you.