Please Welcome the Malcolm Gladwell Backlash
Malcolm Gladwell, blogger, New Yorker contributor, and poofy haired airport bookstore genius-in-residence, is finishing up his latest book just in time for the nascent backlash against him to reach full force. Gladwell's book The Tipping Point introduced his now-famous style: gleefully retold anecdotes arranged and analyzed to support some slightly unlikely sounding thesis. Blink took this style even further, presenting even more disparate stories manipulated to 'prove' some pseudo-scientific CEO self-help method for improving your decision-making skills. But both books sold zillions of copies and even embittered east coast writerly types still seemed to like him. Now, on the eve of his next book's publication, the cracks are starting to show.
It began with Gladwell's retelling of an old, old story of his. He made up bullshit at the Washington Post. This amusing little tale became a tiny scandal! Does Gladwell write in defiance of the vaunted New Yorker fact-checkers? That scandal fizzled out, but the small height it reached is proof that something's in the air.
Now, this new book. It is about how some people succeed, and why, and how our metrics for predicting success are broken. Which means it will be a series of anecdotes, some about successful people, some about metrics for predicting success that don't work, and some about metrics for predicting success that do work. Also it will be about how to apply all of this to "the workplace." You can pretty much write it yourself. Or just read last Sunday's Times piece on it.
It probably will attach itself to the Times bestseller list, but will anyone be as kind to this book as they have been to his previous work? People still spend more time attacking Gladwell the corporate speaker, the wacky personality, and the amusing storyteller than the journalist and Thinker. But Morgan Meis, editor of 3 Quarks Daily and artist/academic type, finally got around to reading Blink, and he doesn't care for it!
The oddest thing about Blink, though, is the disconnect between these transformational claims and the actual arguments to be found inside. Throughout the book, Gladwell sorts his stories and anecdotes into two broad categories. On the one side are the stories about the so-called experts being shown up by the simple power of thinking without thinking. In these cases, we learn about the magical powers we all harbor within ourselves. On the other side, are stories about first impressions that have, in fact, led people astray. In these cases, we learn how to fine-tune and perfect our blinking skills in order not to get it wrong.
And then it turns out at the end that the way to do it is to have a lifetime of experience and be quite clever. Except even then sometimes you need to take more time and get more information so you don't screw up your initial response, which is the Blink thing the book is named after that is supposed to change the world. In other words it's all kinda bullshit.
Between this post, this similarly damning Blink revisit from a fellow Canadian (Happy Canada Day!), and the fact that someone told us as Keith Gessen's Internet Party that Gladwell hangs out with the n+1 crew even though they "all make fun of him behind his back," we think the intellectuals, such as they are, have finally turned against the Pop Sociologist Guru of Today. The blog backlash is already upon us. So maybe the rest of the middlebrow elite will catch up in time for the publication of Outliers.
WE'VE REACHED THE TIPPING POINT DO YOU SEE?