January 13, 2005

Understandably, he didn't imagine anyone would go so far as to subject themselves to Janet Maslin

"Is there any contemporary American writer more agreeable than Malcolm Gladwell? Any writer, I mean, whose work is as reliably well received by so many different sorts of people... Search all you want: You won't find a reader who doesn't at least like Gladwell..." --Farhad Manjoo, Salon, Jan 13 (emphasis mine).

Janet Maslin, The New York Times, Jan. 6:

If the hypotheses of Blink are accurate, you may already have an opinion about whether Mr. Gladwell's second book interests you. Perhaps you also have a hunch about whether his thinking holds any surprises...Trust the sixth sense that tells you how many of Mr. Gladwell's observations are obvious in a flash. The world is full of evidence to support his first and least interesting supposition: that ''decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.'' And ideas that he illustrates systematically are equally well expressed in commonplace ways... the book's heavy-handed, didactic moments will only tighten its grasp on conventional wisdom. The author (a staff writer for The New Yorker) can be simultaneously lively and serious, with particularly good instincts for finding quirky, varied examples to prove his points. But he delivers what is essentially a hybrid of marketing wisdom and self-help -- stronger on broad, catchy constructs than on innovative thinking.... However viable ''Blink'' may be, it is undercut by naggingly bad grammar... Small mistakes, but they add up to a negative impression. And Mr. Gladwell knows perfectly well what such impressions are worth.

I happen to agree with Manjoo more than Maslin about Gladwell's work, but perhaps his editor should have taken him up on that search request before letting him use it as his lede. It wasn't exactly an obscure find.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


I used to--like everyone else--be a big fan of Gladwell's work. The last half-dozen pieces have felt like hackwork, though. His schtick has become formulaic: You thought drug companies were bad. They're good! It is patients who are bad! You thought plagiariasm was bad. It's part of art! (That argument has actually been made countless times before, including in the New Yorker a couple of years ago, by James Kinkaid.)

And I no longer really trust him; I suspect the doctors who wrote in to defend mammograms were closer to the truth than Gladwell was, in his contrarian piece about how hard they are to read.

radoshfan has it exactly right. Gladwell's shtick, while interesting on an article-by-article basis, has worn pretty thin. It's as though every piece begins with him looking at some random item and saying "hmmmm... what's the conventional wisdom on this? OK, now how can I come up with something that contradicts that?" What's more egregious is that so many of his pieces find their way around to this conclusion: You thought there was some systemic problem that needed to be addressed - well, there's not! The status quo is just fine! GO back to sleep!

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