I tend to categorize things I read into a couple of broad groups—things I’ll reference in conversation repeatedly over time and items that quickly slip from my cognitive reflection. Malcolm Gladwell’s writing tends to show up in the first category. He’s engaging and stimulating in fascinating ways that make his stuff a frequent topic of discussion with friends, and he’s usually high on my recommendation list. For example, just the other day, I suggested “Tipping Point” and “Outliers” to a motivated student looking for good reads. If you’re open to thinking about the world in new ways, he generally provides compelling narratives in illustrating non-obvious issues.
My first exposure to his writing was his work at the New Yorker, the dozen page articles motivated by interesting questions, the interweaving of different storylines, and the assurance that the topic will give me something to chew on for the rest of the day. The compilation of his New Yorker pieces, What the Dog Saw, is excellent. The individual pieces are short, self-contained essays that lend themselves to short reads on random topics, and I felt as though I’d gotten smarter for my trouble.
I knew that I’d liked his writing style, the easy, intuitive reads. But I gave up my subscription to The New Yorker a long time ago and this seemed to be a particularly good way to capture a lot of his work. In familiar Gladwell style, he’s changed the way I think about mammography, homelessness, ketchup, and investment strategy. Perhaps part of his skill is simply getting me to think about issues, to say nothing of turning conventional wisdom on its head. There’s often an “Ah-ha” moment with it that I don’t really tire of.
If you like his New Yorker work, you’ll love the book, and even though I’d already read some articles from the original periodicals, I found that a re-read still prompted me to reconsider ideas and that’s a fairly good use of my reading time.