Friday, November 28, 2008

Gladwell Bestseller

Takes One Week: No Surprise

I'm not at all surprised that Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers, took a single week to make the Globe and Mail bestseller list; there it will reside probably for many weeks, becoming an evergreen but that hardly makes it a good book -- or at least some reviews are pointing towards a failed effort.

I've only read Gladwell's first, The Tipping Point, which was enjoyable but the knocks against Gladwell, like the criticism I'll cite in a moment, are hard to discount:
Mr. Gladwell's writing style -- now sufficiently iconic that many new nonfiction authors seek to define themselves as the "Malcolm Gladwell of" their chosen topic -- may be easy to recognize but its clarity and easy grace remain difficult to emulate. Yet clarity may also be its Achilles' heel: As Mr. Gladwell reduces complex sociological phenomenon (such as the success of Eastern European Jewish immigrants or the apparent facility of Asians for math) to compact, pithy explanations (exposure to the entrepreneurial culture of the garment industry and the efficiency-demanding requirements of rice-patty cultivation, respectively), you can't help wondering whether something has been lost in the simplification. This is especially worrisome in the context of the ever-captivating sociological studies that provide much of the supporting evidence in "Outliers." Science is just not as tidy as Mr. Gladwell's explanations would seem to suggest.
Having cited that, I'll say I suspect I'll read Blink and Outliers in the future. There's at the very least entertainment in them.


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