Have you ever had the nagging sense that there’s something not quite right with the adulation that follows Malcolm Gladwell – the author of Tipping Point? But you couldn’t quite put your finger on it? We’re here to help, dear reader.
Gladwell gave two vanity “performances” in the West End – prompting fevered adulation from the posh papers – the most amazing being this Guardian editorial, titled In Praise of Malcolm Gladwell.
It appears that we have a paradox here. A substantial subclass of white collar “knowledge workers” hails this successful nonfiction author as fantastically intelligent and full of insight – and yet he causes an outbreak of infantalisation. He’s better known for his Afro than any big idea, or bold conclusion – and his insights have all the depth and originality of Readers Digest or a Hallmark greeting card. That’s pretty odd.
So what’s really going on here? Who is Malcolm Gladwell? What’s he really saying? Who are these people who lap it all up? And what is it that he’s saying that hold so much appeal?
Let’s start with the first two first.
The Master at Work
Gladwell is a walking Readers Digest 2.0: a compendium of pop science anecdotes which boil down very simply to homespun homilies. Like the Digest, it promises more than it delivers, and like the Digest too, it’s reassuringly predictable.
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