With ‘Talking to Strangers,’ Malcolm Gladwell Goes Dark

Read by millions — but savaged by critics — the author has a new book on police violence, campus rape and other bleak terrain.

Comments: 238

  1. Ugh! These are sensitive complex topics and having read his books in the past I don’t trust him to address them with the intellectual rigor, humanity and historical knowledge required. They say it’s wrong to judge a book by it’s cover, but is it wrong to judge a book by its author.

  2. @MP If your goal is to get useful information out of a book, then I’d say, yeah, it’s wrong. An author’s ideas are right or wrong regardless of who they are. But expecting readers to think that way isn’t realistic. I think we fool ourselves into believing our non-fiction reading is purely an intellectual exercise, but it’s also entertainment and leisure time. We read because it makes us feel good in some way – even the troubling bits. In that vein, it’s fair to brush aside authors you don’t like. I see the very valid criticisms of Gladwell's style and approach. Outliers felt like getting beaten over the head with the same simple idea over and over – and the whole rice paddy chapter doesn’t hold up to a wider look at Asia. But I find his books entertaining, readable and thought-provoking, too. That’s good enough reason for me to buy. If you don’t share that opinion it’s just as good a reason not to buy.

  3. I've never felt the intellectual heft to review Gladwell. What I do know is that he always, every single time, makes me think and that's enough to keep me coming back.

  4. @Lee Smith Years ago before the NFL's brain injury debacle was widely known, and the NFL was trying to get ahead of the story with their spin, he made a convincing case for how awful the sport must be on the average player's brain. In an age of kneejerk arrogance and proudly flaunted ignorance, that should be enough.

  5. Malcolm has a lot in common with John K. Galbraith. Both grew up in small town Ontario. Both are tall. Both took a circuitous route to writing books. Their readers love them and their critics derided them.

  6. @ThirdThots Trivial point but, Gladwell is *not* tall. He specifically mentions this in the interview. As as someone who has walked past him before, I can confirm his not-tallness.

  7. @ThirdThots - Perhaps NYTimes will host a rural-Ontario conversation between Malcolm Gladwell and Neil Young.

  8. ... and then there is the huge difference. JKG was a serious economist whose perspective were supported by deep analysis. MG is a superficial writer of poorly reasoned pop sociology.

  9. His only idea is to make people think they're encountering one without having to do the work of research or thought.

  10. I enjoy Mr. Gladwell's books and podcast. He has challenged my prior assumptions and made them more informative. I will be curious to read or hear (I'm an audiobook person now) his thoughts on Sandra Bland. His recent podcast on Ferguson and using the police to die by suicide left me with mixed feelings. He primarily provided a sympathetic message regarding the challenges of policing while limiting the conversation on the atrocities of disparate policing. True, he spoke about the predatory financial nature of Ferguson County and police force, but that came across as secondary to his other central thesis. With those thoughts in mind, I want to see how Mr. Gladwell handles police interactions in this book. I am skeptical of the notion that if police were seen as our neighbors, akin to the small-town sheriff, there would be fewer overall abuses of power. Although I am willing to admit that someone wiser and more influential than myself did say, all laws rest of loving one's neighbor as one loves themselves. Perhaps then I am a Jesuit in training too.

  11. Gladwell seems like someone who would make a dinner party memorable--conversation would rise from mundanities to some higher level of thought: a gentle striving for insight, wisdom, truth. You would leave feeling that something special had happened. ...but wake the next day wondering why, exactly, you had felt that way, with the equivalent of regret over a one-night stand. But how often do we get to have moments of FEELING like we're on the path to, or 'in the zone' of some kind of elevated thought? Who wouldn't go back for more? So I imagine I'll buy this book. And if Gladwell doesn't have ALL the answers, or the wisdom of some of his insights falters in the long run, I'll still be glad to have his take on things. Incidentally, I am curious if he will reference Sissela Bok and her ideas about the essential role of truth and the need to for it in society.

  12. @Schneb When I wake up 'FEELING like [I was] on the path to, or 'in the zone' of some kind of elevated thought' I usually have other regrets ... accompanied by a hangover or a hacking cough. You've captured it perfectly - reading Gladwell is like using recreational substances. You get the thrill of 'transcendent revelations' in the moment but then it all kind of wears off once you regain your sober powers of reason.

  13. I love his books, I can't wait to read this one. People criticize everyone and everything. But we have a new yardstick, Trump. Nothing, no book, no person, could be worse than a single day of Trump.

  14. So his typical reader is "a 45-year-old guy with three kids who’s an engineer at some company outside of Atlanta”. As someone who does not fit that model, I can now understand when I read one of his books I thought I didn't quite belong. I guess I just don't trust unified theories of everything.

  15. @Me I am certain that there are also "atypical readers" too, but that is not mentioned.

  16. @Alex you mean outliers....

  17. @Me Wry meet @Me. @Me meet wry. You are still strangers.

  18. I drink the same five liquids. Still can't connect with the guy.

  19. One of the problems of generalizing the situation with Sandra Bland illustrates the power, but also the inherent flaw, of using anecdotes. Around the same time Sandra Bland died, in our small county a young white person died in the county jail. An absence of food and water over an extended period of time was the cause. In other words, the same thing happened that had nothing to do with race. How might the meaning of the situation with Sandra Bland be different if every time it was reported or mentioned the year young person in our county jail was also mentioned. It illustrates the flaw of using anecdotes. The problem is that human beings did not evolve to be able to comprehend the law of large numbers. We evolved to respond to individual, discreet events.

  20. @Travelers How is a suicide "the same thing" as "An absence of food and water over an extended period of time"? Since it's unlikely prison officials actually refused food/water, I'm assuming you mean they stopped eating? Would that be "the same thing" as prisoners in Guantanamo refusing to eat? Do you agree with their being force-fed with tubes? Is your comment "the same thing" as "whataboutism"? Does it matter that Sandra Bland was Black? Or did it matter that others would not have been jailed for a cigarette, nor would they feel completely trapped as a result of what she likely perceived as a society-wide and history-deep racial bias that has destroyed the lives and prospects of everyone she cares about?

  21. @we Tp You have just proved my point. Thank you. (and by the way, the prison officials failed to provide water and food--the guy was essentially killed)

  22. The author was skeptical of Gladwell’s use of anecdotal evidence. But once her tape recorder malfunctioned, she was ironically convinced of his methodology.

  23. @Fernando Rojo Pure superstition.

  24. I've enjoyed many of Gladwell's books and podcasts and will look forward to reading his latest, though it sounds as if the premise he's discussing – "default to truth" – has already been thoroughly explored by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, as brilliantly described by Michael Lewis in his book "The Undoing Project," also an excellent read.

  25. Gladwell helped make me interested in learning when he was writing for the New Yorker in the 90s and early 2000s. Sure his arguments are flawed at times, but at other times he makes brilliant points and conveys concepts that nobody else is arguing. Thank you to Malcolm for his writing.

  26. Much of what Gladwell does reminds me of what a friend said about the now ex-husband of a mutual acquaintance: he’d be great to date, but he’s not someone you should marry.

  27. @Nyca and no one ever has.

  28. I am a woman, 67 year old, and a retired social worker, who has introduced Malcolm Gladwell to thirty somethings. As an outsider with strong critical thinking skills, Mr. Gladwell cuts through an insider’s group -think and to look at a problem from a different angle. This allow him and his readers & listeners to create new hypotheses about these problems. It is okay for all of us to challenge Mr. Gladwell’s ideas. In fact, I believe this may be one of his goals to ask us to think deeply, creatively, and critically. In this era of propaganda and misinformation spread by powerful groups, Mr. Gladwell way of looking at established ideas and concepts is good medicine.

  29. Someone please help me connect the dots here. I'm not even catching an outline of a thesis to how "default to truth" applies so richly to Sandra Bland's story that Gladwell could've devoted the entire book to it. Misunderstanding? Let strangers be strangers?

  30. In praise of Malcolm Gladwell: I don't care what "the critics" think. Modern criticism has become nothing more than shallow, surfacey book reports that - especially in this era - are kind of So what? He's not writing doctoral theses and text books - he's writing his genre. I like his mind, the way he takes mundane topics and makes them interesting.

  31. @BothSides don't know what you have been reading, but we actually are in quite the golden age of long-form analytic criticism

  32. When I'm going to be in the car for an hour or more, I download podcasts, Revisionist History being far and away my favorite. Gladwell is an entertaining, sometimes provocative storyteller. Gladwell has perfected the podcast. I'm grateful he has decided to share his gifts in formats I can enjoy. May he continue to produce as long as I continue to drive!

  33. Will read it eventually, not in a rush, I'm at a place (which feels quite appropriate in today's social/political climate) where self-awareness, improvement, and love is top priority and other people's viewpoints are somewhat secondary. However, he's a writer that while absorbing you into his thinking, ultimately leaves you with personal goals on what to apply or ignore, I have to respect that. I think he's criticized a bit too much, who is perfect? Much of his writing feels good natured at heart, I think the spiritual pitch forks need to come down already. Being negative is not only exhausting, but just getting cliche at this point.

  34. Let’s see. While cleaning the pool or driving to work I can either listen to commercial radio replaying pop hits, NPR reporting on Trump or Malcom spinning a yarn on some interesting social theories with some fact based anecdotes. It’s a no brainer. Moreover, everyone in the car — parents, late teens and early twenties — finds his topics fascinating and usually ends up discussing them, briefly. If I put on a rock station, the headphones go on. However, the books are too much, I can only take his perspective in small doses. He tips his hand early and there are lots of other great authors out there; podcasters, not so many.

  35. @Billy Bobby You have identified the problem with many otherwise solid non-fiction authors of our day. Their reporting and observations are useful and engaging in smaller doses and there is some outstanding magazine journalism out there as well as podcasts. But the demands of producing a full book push them too far. . .

  36. The closing of the article is indicative of the problem with Gladwell. He talks about knowing police growing up in his hometown, then segues to Sandra Bland's interaction with a state trooper. He focuses on what she saw, though she's not alive to have told anyone what she saw, let alone him. And the more important perspective is what the state trooper saw, as he was the one with power, and the one who put her in jail, the one who bears at least some responsibility for her death. What did the state trooper see? Why is Gladwell blaming "these divided times" when the issue is really what the trooper saw, what his training taught him to do (he was a trained professional after all), and whether he was able to see a human in Sandra Bland?

  37. @JP A, "trained professional,” you say, of the tooper who locked up Sandra Bland? Trained, to do what exactly? Hate? Bully? I think Gladwell has finally come of age. Maybe, he has completed his ten thousand hours, and realized the flaws of our expectations. Anecdotal evidence, is evidence, at least for the incident that took place.

  38. @Prant I don't know what the trooper was trained to do. But whatever it was, it had far more bearing on Ms. Bland's death than what she saw, yet he chose to put the focus and blame on her. As for the 10,000 hours thing, while Gladwell popularized the idea, it has largely been proven as bunk. I doubt Gladwell has "finally come of age." Arguably, people's trust in him proves a gullibility thesis--he has been proven unreliable, yet people still seem to rely on him.

  39. Malcolm Gladwell is a master at finding evidence to support his pre-conceived ideas, and so it probably is with his latest book. I have not read the book (and have no intention of reading it), but would not be surprised to find that he is using Sandra Bland's tragic story to fit the narrative that he wants to be there, not necessarily the narrative that is, actually, there. I suspect that our relationship with 'strangers' is forged by the circumstances of our upbringing. Growing up in a small, rural town in Canada - where, I imagine, people didn't lock their doors at night - creates vastly different kinds of interactions with people than growing up in a densely crowded urban city block. The lessons we learn as children linger well into adulthood. I doubt such subtleties matter to Gladwell; they never seemed to before. Besides, he is a brand now, and brands have to be maintained to ensure their relevance.

  40. @JohnD To be fair, all of us find evidence to support our preconceived ideas, so this isn't really a valid criticism but a comment on how human brains function.

  41. @DGAZ But also to be fair--the scientific method is designed to guard against that.

  42. @JohnD I like the (intentional?) irony. If understand your point - it would be like not reading a book, but still commenting on it based on assumptions about its content and author, "fitting the narrative he wants to be there, not necessary the narrative that is actually there".

  43. I read parts of this book as a pre-pub. I have enjoyed his other books, especially Outliers. This one was just too awful. His premise seems to be that race and sex have nothing to do with anything, when I know that is not true. To dismiss race in the Sandra Bland case is absurd. To look at Brock Turner and not see white male privilege asserting its ugly self as sexual violence is inexcusable. The "clinical" way he described these horrors was too much. I threw the book in recycling since I can not sell a pre-pub and I had no desire to share it with anyone. I expected so much more. And I have to say I have read other books that seek to understand horrible violence, including Krakower's Missoula, and didn't feel that the author was dismissing the underlying causes of such violence while using clinical evidence to discuss it.

  44. @MJ - I have to trust what you say, but it doesn't seem to say in the article "that race and sex have nothing to do with anything". From the article, he posits that Sandra Bland saw "cop". Without having read the book, I'm guessing the officer didn't see "driver" when he threw her to the ground and arrested her for smoking (the moment it went south). I do happen to believe people bring their baggage to interactions, that how and where they were raised colors their reactions and interactions. I don't think the Brian Encinias of the world are bad people, but they bring something to certain trivial interactions that results in the death of one party. It doesn't seem his point is discussing systemic rape , but the reason officers so often regard a victim's account as unlikely and the perpetrator's as true.

  45. All I know of the book, Talking to Strangers, is the perspective of this piece, not the book. I got the inference about about a cautionary tale in speaking to strangers. Kind of goes against "The kindness of strangers." Are we safer with strangers than our own? Are we not more likely to be physically, sexual abused, financially taken, murdered, etc. by someone we know rather than strangers. Strangers carry no baggage toward us. People we know carry lots. We focus on xenophobia, but there is a fear of friends, familiar ones, too. Won't we be less negatively affect by a stranger than a friend? And can there be a deeper cut to the soul from a friend than a stranger?

  46. @Emmett Coyne Great comment. In RE: strangers carry no baggage toward us, this provides an opportunity to reinvent oneself. That is good. But if one is trying to do something with someone else that is productive, helpful, takes more than a moment, then a track record is useful to know. Have no track record? then one must build trust, brick by brick. I have no idea what the book says either. but I sure liked pondering your comment.

  47. Wise words!

  48. Five beverages, but no champagne? In good times and bad, this is my staple.

  49. I'm not sure if this is a book review or not. To prove Mr. Gladwell's point, I often feel the subject of an article or discussion has little to do with the content. There seems to be a new paradigm in modern discussion, perhaps fueled by cable news, the internet, Twitter, etc., where the topic under scrutiny is veered away from far more often than it is focused upon. I do not feel it is inappropriate for Mr. Gladwell to have a podcast with advertisers. Dude's gotta live. I will have to get the book. I am intrigued by the subject matter and I feel Mr. G is getting to something "meta" in our society. Now we need a method, or a plan, or even the will to do something about it and stay focused on the subject of a discussion, and the person with whom it is being discussed. (grammar...ugh).

  50. @RA GoBucks. It’s not a review. It’s a profile that sprinkles in a couple of quotes from reviewers.

  51. My only experience with Mr. Gladwell was when he went on the Bill Simmons Podcast. He claimed Nigeria would make the best historical basketball team, then his choices ranged from obvious (Hakeem Olajuwon, born in Nigeria) to a reach (Klay Thompson, the son of a Bahamian, whose black population Gladwell claims largely came from Nigeria during the slave trade) to no logic whatsoever (Steve Nash, born in South Africa to British parents). Safe to say, I wasn't compelled to take in any more of his ideas.

  52. The bit about journalists being a jealous lot evidently has an element of truth, judging from the level of snark here and there in this review. I listen to Revisionist History and liked the previous books. I’ll be getting the audiobook of Talking to Strangers too.

  53. In some ways Gladwell is a pseudo-scientific writer analog of every megachurch prosperity preacher. There's nothing there, yet he is followed by a huge crowd of worshippers who have made him wealthy.

  54. I read and listen to all of his writings. I am still wishing California golf courses paid their fair share of taxes. This should priority number one, besides LA being the only major city in the world w/o a park.

  55. @Calleendeoliveira Has Griffith Park been sold to the developers? I met Malcolm Gladwell well before his Tipping Point moment. He covered the FDA for the Post, I ran the healthcare practice at a large PR firm. We had an enjoyable lunch. He struck me as a bright guy who was a good listener and knew how to ask smart questions. He left DC shortly thereafter for the Post's New York bureau. That turned out to be a good career move.

  56. Wait - what other liquids ARE there?

  57. @Kristopher: White wine, rosé, champagne, Campari and various other bitters, Pisco, the list is endless! :-)

  58. @Kristopher -- Mercury. Spoiler alert: Don't drink.

  59. The common use of the term “Tipping Point” that you seem to attribute to the Gladwell book is nonsense. That jargon has been around for a long long time-HE borrowed it from the past.

  60. Wow that was weird. There's this kerfuffle about how the critics have savaged Gladwell, yet this gaping empty space as to what those criticisms are. Weird.

  61. @Mexico Mike True. For those who haven’t followed the arguments, Christopher Chabris has done an excellent job in identifying much of what is wrong with Gladwell’s work. I recommend his reviews to all reading this discussion.

  62. @Mexico Mike - There are links in the article to two well-known reviews, one from Steven Pinker and the other from Joe Nocera. They aptly summarize some of the more common criticisms of Gladwell's work.

  63. I couldn't get past the title - based on the thesis of the book, it should be titled "Talking WITH Strangers". Basic semantic errors in a title do not bode well for the rest of the text. Nor does the claim "Authored by Malcolm Gladwell" - my fav part of his bio, "After being rejected by every advertising agency he applied to, he accepted a journalism position..."

  64. @SteveRR "Talking to" is a more common construction than "Talking with" and sounds better. Prepositions are difficult and notoriously idiomatic. And publishers usually have the final say on the title, not authors.

  65. @NJW Well - no - 'talking to' and 'talking with' have two different meanings - they are not interchangeable for people who care about these kinds of things.

  66. At work I hear nothing but inept use of language. Few things make me more content than a long walk while listening to Mr. Gladwell's podcast.

  67. @Richard Scott. Well. There is THAT.

  68. I enjoy reading Gladwell's writing about things where I am not an expert, and in areas where I have some training -- for example eigenvalues -- I worry about his writing. On reflection, I suppose this is evidence that I should worry about the things I don't understand, too.

  69. Gladwell has long been an egotistical writer of fictionalized non-fiction. He creates these absurdly broad macro-lessons and ideas and crudely extrapolates them across an endless swath of scenarios, often missing the mark or never clarifying why his idea matters. These topics seem like him desperately trying to stay relevant because of his toxic apolitical "centrism."

  70. I haven't read any of his books but I recently caught him on The Moth podcast, talking about his college friend and his wedding tribute. Google it now.

  71. Gladwell is no doubt an easy target for “savage critics”, but it is clear he does more homework than they do.

  72. I like gladwell. his writing's not academic it's true. but it's generally curious and thought provoking, like Seinfeld's observational comedy. not every writer needs to be an intellectual, not every argument needs to unassailable

  73. @nonpersonage At last! A sensible comment. I like reading Gladwell, and I have spent my life in academia and outside at the same time. Thought provoking is important, curiosity is important, and chatting about stuff is important. We would be far better off if we spent an hour a day with each other chatting about stuff like what Gladwell write.

  74. Thank you. I've liked the revisionist history podcasts. I will now listen to them with a more critical eye. TDT no-more!

  75. It's not a coincidence that Gladwell writes for the general public. Every Gladwell book depends upon reader ignorance of basic research in the field and sound statistical methods. But if all it took was this author's broken recorder to embrace this pseudo-scientific chatter, Gladwell's future success is assured.

  76. "I'm curious about human behaviour" comments BJFM. Me too ! I grew up in Listowel, a small town 25 miles west of Elmira. I left for university in 1962 and four years later was a UNICEF Field Rep south of Kolkata. My neighbour was Harvard anthropologist Cora Dubois. We drank a lot of gin and I got a great introduction into human behaviour. Better than a Phd ! The small town advantage is that you get to observe a range of characters and social interaction. What goes around, really does come around. Alice Munro's formative years were in Wingham, 50 miles west of Elmira. Would she have found such a rich material in a city? Malcolm Gladwell's a story teller, and a good one: a lot of people people listen. Relax and enjoy the story. ancient Canadian ps for more context google letterkenny

  77. Never heard of the man until reading this article.

  78. @John Taylor Of all the responses that always pop up, this one always puzzles me the most. Do you really think that adds anything to the discussion? Do you really think there is any author that everybody has heard of? Who cares?

  79. “... cherry-picked anecdotes, post-hoc sophistry and false dichotomies...” captures Gladwell perfectly.

  80. @Andrew It pretty much captures the entirety of public discourse perfectly.

  81. @Andrew — the 10,000 hour rule alone for professional success should provoke intense skepticism; if it were true every studio band could be the Beatles

  82. @daveW Every studio band is better than the Beatles, it's their job to be. The Beatles had talent, sure, but were really a phenomena of their time and the state of show business in 1963. Skill and talent are two things but opportunity is everything.

  83. Really?-> Mr. Gladwell’s smooth Canadian lilt worked perfectly in the "sensitive-bro realm of podcasting," You just made up a genre, out of very thin air. How Gladwellian of you. Some other genres you might entertain: The bully inside linebacker realm of podcasting, (There are many.) Yes, on this one point you are spot on, the critics seem put-out because of his success.

  84. This review is pointless -- another example of the politics of division that Amy Chozick grew up in. Why publish it at all? Ms. Chozick shows zero insight into or discussion of his current idea; she doesn't even explain it. I don't blame her. Amy lost her recorder. Perhaps she's inclined to process words as over the internet. She's not used to actually thinking and having a conversation together with someone; she's stuck in the strategic-observer mode, so she can't actually remember what he said -- which I imagine was likely Socratic in giving her clues to follow up, which she didn't recognize. About his method: he takes something we all find weird, and shows how the weirdness illuminates how we think and behave. This is a long-standing method of social critic/observers. Sometimes the weirdness is quantitative, and his prescriptions are misread as being based in science. At best he is formulating hypotheses, asking, "what if?" I don't like him as a scientist or as a journalist; he's not truly bound to theory/experiment, or to reporting accuracy. I like him as a thinker, who can recognize an idea and see where it takes us. Part of the reason we're so divided is we keep fighting over facts and theories, as if that drives us. But we're mostly ideological, and the question is, which ideas are compelling? This is Malcolm Gladwell's space, and I'm glad someone's exploring it. Perhaps Amy Chozick could try it? It takes a fair bit of courage, but I believe she can.

  85. @we Tp--This is not a book review.This is a profile piece on an author. Those are two different and distinct creations. Mr. Gladwell's book may very well be reviewed in the book review section of the Times, at which time you can comment on the review's merits. But, to criticize Ms. Chozick when it is you who have misunderstood the the intent of the article is unfair.

  86. @we Tp mean.

  87. Way too much information about an author who clearly is more concerned about reaching his middle brow, essentially white audience than honestly examining the topics he is writing about. Power, class and race matter in the US. Without this context, the semiotics of the self in this capitalist free fire zone are meaningless.

  88. @Rickibobbi He's read by millions. His white, middle brow audience overlaps significantly with the NYT audience. He's a perfectly reasonable and predictable topic for an author profile.

  89. If you don’t like his books, don’t read them.

  90. They’re not obscure works of fiction. He presents them as factual analysis of the way the world works, and needs to be called out when his work is faulty because he’s read by millions.

  91. @Angelus Ravenscroft I disagree. Although he does refer to a lot of scientific analyses he never proclaims his observations to be anything but his interpretation of those studies. He doesn't do the science himself. So far all I read in this story was people arguing that they disagree with some of his finer points but never really pointing out how he's wrong. Seems like pure jealousy to me. I remain a fan.

  92. The value of Malcolm is that he makes think critically, and introduces subjects that are not normally considered. His podcast "Carlos Doesnt Remember" is by far the most thought provoking and influential podcast I ever listened to.

  93. “I feel like there is this weird disconnect between the way the world is presented to us in the media and the way it really is." For many years I used this idea to convince ordinary people that they can have an impact on the political system. ...

  94. Gladwell fails to take into account the policeman hunted Sandra Bland by speeding up behind her giving her no time to turn her signal on. She was trying to get out of the policeman's way to get to his emergency. Sandra had not idea SHE was the emergency even before she failed to signal.

  95. @Denise no he doesn't-it's in the book...I suggest you read it (more carefully?)

  96. @Donna Where in the book does he mention that policeman was after Sandra before he pulled her over for failing to signal? She said she quickly got out of his way and did not have time to signal to go right. He already had his lights on before she pulled over.

  97. If a book changes the world by inspiring people to think differently, but is not scientific in its reasoning, should it not be celebrated? If a book meets all the standards of rigorous scientific research yet is never read, should it be celebrated? We should measure Gladwell’s success against the goals he has set for himself. We would not project our expectations on him. Kris www.firmsconsulting.com

  98. Thank God someone else believes what I just said! Excellently put, Chris!

  99. I’ve not read any of his books because I first became aware of them from hearing people spew misunderstood, silly generalizations they had gleaned from one of them (probably “Tipping Point”). I became an instant un-fan. I did read his article about how Heinz ketchup is so “perfect” nobody can usurp its top position. My aversion was cemented. He so completely misunderstands what he’s writing about that I am in constant danger of grinding my teeth into powder. I buy French’s ketchup because it’s made with tomatoes from Leamington, Ontario, by the way, and tastes just as good as Heinz. So for me, it’s not so much that I hate Gladwell (because he is obviously a talented writer and a fairly smart cookie), but that I hate the impact he has on his readers’ minds. Whenever I hear someone say, “According to Gladwell, you only need to do something for 10,000 hours to become a master at it”, I want to scream at them to think for a second before blithely accepting any nonsense they read! At least now, with his latest book, I “understand” why they do it. It’s because they’re too trusting! [sarcasm, dripping]

  100. @Ed Op Yes. While I enjoyed his ketchup article, I do think he waxes poetic on simplicities, which is something any “intellectual” would be criticized for. By the way, try some organic ketchup — it will blow your mind and you will never be the same. I grew up on and loved French’s condiments. My dad did the illustrations for them. Then I found organic ketchup and bought it on a whim. It tastes like tomatoes. What a concept. :)

  101. @Ed Op I can see why the 10,000-hour thing would bother you when framed that way. As I remember, 10,000 hours was a minimum, not a guarantee. It was, in other words, the best-case scenario of achieving mastery at something. For many of us, it takes much, much longer. Cheers!

  102. @Andy The 10,000 hour thing, which Gladwell took from research which didn't make the claims for it that he did, is actually a great example of where his method goes awry. Even forgetting that the 10,000 hour threshold predicts nothing in the arts and sciences, where people spend lifetimes trying the master the form, and to no effect, consider one of his own examples, Bill Gates, who's cited for his programming hours, staring in his teens. The trouble is, Bill Gates didn't succeed as a programmer. Other people wrote the code. What Gates was good at was exploiting government-granted copyrights and patents, hiring the best lawyers and either buying out or crushing the competition thanks to no anti-trust enforcement.

  103. After reading all his books and enjoying his podcasts I had no idea he has been criticized so vehemently. I like how his brain works and feel challenged by the framing he puts on topic we take for granted. I find I remember details from his books years later. I will be reading the new one with an open minded curiosity. Great profile. Thx NYT.

  104. Thank you NYT for this article. I love Malcolm's books and often give them as gifts. He's a thinker and an observer, and is able to combine various elements into a sensible result.

  105. "police officers weren’t just police officers — they were also neighbors, fellow shoppers at the grocery store, people speaking up at P.T.A. meetings." Yes, but that presents a whole other set of problems, which is the whole reason NYPD are never assigned to their neighborhood of residence.

  106. @Greg A that’s might be because people who can afford to live in some boroughs don’t become cops.

  107. @Kathy Barker No, it was a reform made in the 70s explicitly in response to concerns about the greater potential for corruption when NYPD live the neighborhoods they police.

  108. I lost all faith in Gladwell after his Reefer Madness-esque attack in the New Yorker on the legalization of pot. (In short, he falsely claimed that stats show that pot changes brain chemistry and turns people violent.) His reasoning was not just shoddy, but clearly biased against pot, leaving the article unjournalistic, irresponsible, and harmful.

  109. @Angelus Ravenscroft I could be mistaken, but it's my understanding that frequent use of marijuana by adolescents whose brains aren't completely developed is physically harmful.

  110. Pro Tip: Use Voice Memos in your iPhone to record.

  111. After reading the 5 liquids rule, I had to stop.

  112. @Raymond Leonard Exactly. Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

  113. @Raymond Leonard its not a rule. its just what he does. i only drink clear spirits. not a rule. something i do. and life is too short for bad wine.

  114. @Raymond Leonard why is this five liquids thing even here? Its meaning has not been explored by Amy Chozick.

  115. Man, there are lot of insufferable people in this comments section. It might behoove them to read this book.

  116. Gladwell is the perfect distillation of how we're all supposed to just agree to disagree when someone says racism is over or vaccines are poison. People are losing faith in institutions because, for instance, Gladwell and Giuliani thought broken windows policing kept us safe, when in fact it endangered many vulnerable populations. It's nice that Gladwell has backed away somewhat from his support for broken windows, but golly, maybe he should have looked at the effects more than superficially before pretending it was supported data? After his utterly preposterous opinion piece in the New Yorker JAQing off vacuously about the dangers of marijuana, I will not be reading his works any further until he reckons with the consequences of his utter lack of rigor in drawing conclusions for such a wide audience.

  117. @Law Feminist Time will tell about that piece. He spoke mostly about the lack of scientific knowledge of that mind-altering substance that was welcomed into our culture on blind trust and hunger for pleasure. Like sugar and nicotine. We'll see.

  118. @Law Feminist More and more research is proving that apprehension about current (very potent) marijuana use in young people is justified. Public health warnings emerged this week and emergency rooms have been crowded with casualties for years. As have mothers' basements. Gladwell is correct to question the pot lobby especially when the Federal regulators cannot even properly regulate two Boeing plants.

  119. @Law Feminist I urge you to read his takedown in the New Yorker of the entire FBI profiling enterprise. This is an example of Gladwell undertaking exactly the kind of critique of an institutional practice (one that lacks scientific validity) that I sincerely believe you would appreciate. Also, with both broken windows and marijuana, one needs to distinguish theory from policy. Broken windows as a behavioral theory makes sense--one is far likelier to be neat and clean in a neat and clean room because who is even going to notice if you add to the mess in a filthy room? But that doesn't automatically justify giving the police license to harass citizens. You can appreciate one without advocating the other. Same for marijuana--I supported its legalization but have never stopped believing it can be dangerous. I don't believe the dangers justified the impact of the criminalization. You can point out a fact legitimately without favoring all the reactions to that observation.

  120. i don't think it matters if his conclusions are valid; the point is that his intellectual journey - and yes, there is one - links seemingly disconnected subjects and comes up with a whole new theory. i like the way his brain works. i like the way his pen writes. i like the fact that he cares so much about the same stuff that puzzles me. what is the deal with ketchup, anyway?

  121. @Andie Yes!

  122. @Andie Indeed. I haven't read his books, only his articles, but I am impressed with how he pushes beyond disciplinary boundaries in search of big ideas. It's a dirty job and probably doomed but somebody has to do it.

  123. It doesn't matter if his conclusions are valid????

  124. There is an upside to "defaulting to trust." Philip Roth said it best: "The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway; it's getting them wrong that is living. Getting them wrong, and wrong, and wrong, and then under careful consideration, get them wrong again."

  125. @trblmkr Well, that explains the portrayal of women in Mr. Roth's books.

  126. I love his books. He really makes me think. A silly point, but one observation really stuck with me--how many hours the Beatles put into their music before becoming successful.

  127. @sehoy It is a silly point. I have not read "Outlier," but from what I have read about it, I always thought the book should be subtitled, "How you get to Carnegie Hall." Nothing new here. Do you really think the Beatles would have appeared on Ed Sullivan's show without first paying their dues elsewhere? Just like every other star who ever appeared on Ed Sullivan's show. Do you think that Tom Brady would have ever won one Super Bowl without having played high school and college football? Nothing new here.

  128. The US could do with aspirational national standards on 1) Police hiring practices 2) Training 3) Accountability & Retention. Would have to be voluntary (Gold, Silver, Bronze levels? tied to Fed funding?) as policing is a local function. The number of police forces is HUGE & the level/type (how defuse situations, handle mentally ill, negotiate v. authoritative command & control) of training varies greatly.

  129. One celebrity his father could have been talking to about gardening is Michael Caine, who left LA and moved back to the UK, he said, because he disliked gardening in a climate that did not change seasons. The clarity of Gladwell's prose is what I admire, with some misgivings about his over-use of structures that set up a full-blown premise and then re-blows it into a demolished truth. It's not easy to write clearly. See here for example: "A year later, Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman in Texas, was found hanged in her jail cell after a traffic stop, and Mr. Gladwell’s idea crystallized."

  130. I am glad the idea of that theory is out. We all start off as babies which means we are forced to rely on the intentions of our caregiver. It’s our first necessary survival default. But I believe E Fromm wrote about it. The idea that we start out fully formed and completely aware and armed is a silly. But we seem to need to tell ourselves that - a part of the reason we don’t like women. Well, it’s a start and I hope people think about. Accepting your vulnerability is liberating.

  131. Malcolm Gladwell is a mile wide, and an inch deep.

  132. A farmer's mile and a fisherman's deep.

  133. Just about exactly 14 years ago, The New Yorker published Gladwell's "Moral Hazard Myth" about the health care system that I keep mentioning when discussing this topic. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/08/29/the-moral-hazard-myth It's a classic and while praiseworthy, it's also a sign of continuing tragedy because (other than ACA) progress toward a sane health care delivery system is still so impeded by greedy Republicans. Read it, and you'll see how enlightened, compassionate people think and feel.

  134. A lightweight thinker and writer.

  135. What's wrong with that?

  136. @Jane Malcolm earns a very good living through reading, writing, and lecturing. He encourages his audience to think about interesting social trends and patterns. He has a nice pad in the Village. If only the rest of us were that lightweight.

  137. The ability to think creatively,independently and originally is very rare. As rare as the ability to admit ignorance by saying ' I don't know". As rare as the ability to separate ignorance from stupidity. Not knowing that 2+2= 4 is ignorance that can be cured by curiosity. Knowing that 2+2= 5 is incurable stupidity. There are no ' stupid' questions. There are lots of stupid ' answers'. Mr. Gladwell helps makes me think.

  138. What people fail to realize about MG is that he is a reporter. He holds no graduate degrees and is not an expert in anything. Like most reporters, his info is only as good as his sources. His conclusions and extrapolations are not based on science or special insight and hold no merit. When you regurgitate Gladwell you regurgitate what he thinks he heard from a source. If you're really interested in a subject, just go to the source(s) in the first place.

  139. @Mike B . . . It is sad that some seem to think that only the conclusions and extrapolations of folks with graduate degrees are worth merit.

  140. @Chris M No, it's not. The context is that a graduate degree in a area of concentration affords specialized knowledge. He holds a BA from a liberal arts college. Not even a journalism school. He can report on anything he wants. Good reporting is important. He is however, unqualified to draw conclusions and interpret facts. If you were to interview him he COULD answer a question like, "What did you see/hear/feel/taste/smell/do?" He cannot answer any questions like: "What does that mean?" "What do you recommend?" "How does that impact on the human condition?" A good friend of mine, a corespondent at CBS news, told me that it starts with a simple line like: "The police will know more as the investigation moves forward." "Really?" She'd say. "Can that reporter predict the future? That's a conclusion, not a quote. He doesn't know that. It's all down hill from there, folks." I don't need MG to tell me what an expert knows and I certainly don't to want to know what MG thinks about it. There's no value in it.

  141. @Mike B Alas, far too often the experts are utterly incompetent at making themselves understood in plain English (or even literate, grammatically correct English--and I mean even the native speakers). Even worse, many have no interest in communicating with anyone outside their peer group. I know--I've spent decades helping them communicate. And there's plenty of value in a thinker like Gladwell who does what the narrow disciplinary experts fail to do--make connections across discipline, professional cultures, and fields.

  142. In the wake of another contested death in custody, I'm wondering if anyone else HAS written that "entire volume" about Sandra Bland.

  143. Gladwell, what a name for a man who makes money indulging in polemics, provocation, and nonsense. He seems to find value in being the contrarian simply because he seeks attention.

  144. “I feel like there is this weird disconnect between the way the world is presented to us in the media and the way it really is. Bingo. Amen. Thank you for putting IT into words. It's "funny" there is another Canadian, Jordan Peterson, who must be "related" . The media & his millions of readers don't agree either.

  145. The reason police officers ask drivers to put out cigarettes is that they know lighting up a cigarette is a tactic that motorists operating under the influence employ to mask the scent of alcohol or marijuana. The autopsy report showed Sandra Bland had ingested a large amount of marijuana. Bland’s refusal to extinguish the cigarette, her demeanor and odd behavior—she refused to make eye contact—gave Texas Highway Patrol Office Brian Encinia sufficient cause to ask her to step out of her car. The video shows she refused to comply with his legal order to exit her vehicle and violently resisted when he tried to pull her from the car. The Texas Stop Data Report for 2015—the year Bland was stopped—shows that blacks made up 11.73 percent of the Texas population but only 9.50 percent of motorists pulled over by police. https://www.dps.texas.gov/director_staff/public_information/2015_Traffic_Stop_Data_Report.pdf

  146. @William Case: On the other hand, people, change lanes without signaling constantly. Continually. All day long. Next time you're on a two or three-lane street or highway, keep count yourself. When an officer pulls someone over for not signaling a lane change, it's essentially at his/her whim. I doubt that they do so evenhandedly.

  147. @Frank O The video shows that the Encinia had just stopped another vehicle for changing lanes without signaling a few minutes before he pulled Bland over for not signaling. This happens because traffic cops are issued instructions to crack down on certain types of offense doing their start of shift briefings. Encinia was issuing warning tickets for illegal lane change,

  148. @William Case, Bland pulled over without signaling because she thought the cop was trying to pass her. She was trying to get out if his way as quickly as possible. He initiated the whole incident after she made a legal u-turn. He was aggressively looking for infractions, and in his zeal he caused one. Nothing about his behavior was justified. Her lighting a cigarette was not illegal and was no justification for him to pull her out of her car. There was no probable cause to suspect that she was high, nor did the autopsy prove that she was. Marijuana can be detected in the blood long after its effects wear off.

  149. A good Ontario boy who has done well. Love him - and his books.

  150. @Astrid MG isn't a "boy", he is a man. Would you call a white author a "boy"? Didn't think so.

  151. I would recommend that one also reads Jennifer L. Eberhard's book, 'Biased'. The book, among other things, digs into the relationship between the police and Blacks. After reading the book, one should come away with a far more nuanced view of the police-Black relationship than the view that comes from the media and activists.

  152. Malcolm is a thinker who is using his talents to illuminate ideas. He makes interesting observations that are cohesive, connected, and accessible. Love his curiosity, his work ethic, and his language patterns. And because he's an excellent writer, he rarely needs the Oxford comma.

  153. Excellent profile here by NYT! Let us just agree that Gladwell is an important voice of our times, who is helping us to make sense of the times. He could do it by cross referencing to history or not, but he damn well tries. The problem is - we always are looking for that one big idea to explain everything and to lionise someone for it. Gladwell never claimed he is God. Guess people need to wake up to the possibility that he is one of the voices and not the only voice around. He could be a tad too simplistic at times but that helps him connect with those who probably would have not touched a book/ listened to a podcast. Ever. He is bringing more people into the conversation and that is all we can ask for, what people do after that, is out of his control, isn’t it?

  154. If Malcolm Gladwell wants to apply his loopy pop-quiz style to any aspect of American life, (such as the glories of ketchup and of McDonald's French fries), he is free to do it; and lovers of superficial, gaseous, thinking are free to pay him to do it. But for an intellectually corrupt pop-author to turn his attention to the tragedy of the Sandra Bland murder is one step too far. It's like discussing the Jeffry Epstein case in an ad for breakfast cereal. Let's keep things a bit more real. Sandra Bland is dead, and it wasn't a tipping point, and it didn't take 10,000 hours, and there are no clever, breezy observations to make when a thug Texas cop says, "I will light you up!" to an innocent black woman, who is then found hanged in her cell.

  155. Arent his 15 minutes up yet???

  156. Gladwell haters, like all haters, reveal their insecurities and jealousy by lashing out at a stranger. Why should he get a new schtick, when the one he's created has brought him so much success? You do you Malcolm. Success breeds contempt.

  157. @charlie - Simple pop-psychology inversions actually don't explain much about "haters" or anything else. Also, why would somebody as accomplished as Steven Pinker be "jealous" of somebody like Gladwell? And how is his respectful, point-by-point critical analysis of Gladwell's work reducible to "lashing out"?

  158. I am no expert of all thing Gladwell but the one take away I have always had about his writings and his public discussions is that he challenges the audience to think. Whether it is thinking about a subject in a different way or challenging the dogma that regiments so much of how most of us consistently relate to the world around us. I am not caught up in whether is conclusions are correct or unscientific, I find his appeal in that he challenges us to re-consider. At the end of the day what is the use of have the ability for independent thought when so much of what we engage in is regurgitating what we believe to be true.

  159. I enjoy Mr. Gladwell's writing. He has an elegant way of bringing complex to subjects to life. I do not expect to earn a PhD in any subject by reading a slim paperback nor do I imagine that much of what he writes about is well-settled science, nor, I imagine, do most readers. As for his "broken-windows" essay in "The Tipping Point," may I suggest that its main value lies in the fact that so many of us now know what the "broken-windows" theory is, which leaves us better prepared to learn why it has proven to be problematic. Without that essay, the whole of that very important debate might just be sailing right over our heads now.

  160. Gladwell's examination of the Sandra Bland case in his new book will hopefully include an appreciation of the role that race played in it. However, this article suggests he may have given it short shrift, possibly in order to shoehorn her ugly encounter with Trooper Encina into his theory that America has become a thoughtless society and in order to cure ourselves, we need to be "willing to engage in some soul-searching about how we approach and make sense of strangers." The problem that Sandra Bland faced on that fateful day was not that Encina "had a single face: cop." The principal problem was that her face was black and his was white. This problem was exacerbated by his unwillingness or inability to brook any "uppityness" on the part of a black woman. People of color are conditioned by deep experience to see white cops as bullies and quick to rouse to anger and the use of force, sometimes of an unwarranted, lethal nature. And police are conditioned by a variety of factors to see and fear people of color, particularly black men. These factors range from institutional racism to higher rates of crime, violence and poverty in minority communities. Sometimes it's just ordinary cowardice that causes police to shoot first and ask questions later--if the target survives. I hope Mr. Gladwell's book and podcasts (to which I listen) help people "reflect on things they otherwise wouldn’t reflect on" and behave more humanely as a result. But I won't hold my breath waiting.

  161. @Charles alexander, so lighting a cigarette in the face of an officer is a capital offense? I think the scales of justice you seem to be citing need to be recalibrated.

  162. @Jamie Nichols Unfortunately Ms Bland, like too many others these days, failed to appreciate that an exchange with a police officer is not a debate. It's not a test of wills. You follow the cop's directions and then tell it to the judge. There's zero evidence that race played any part in the incident.

  163. @Max, someone pulled over for failing to signal should not end up dead.

  164. I kind of liked Gladwell's early work, later work too, but it seems to me he has been caught up in celebrity, cocktail party celebrity. Also, I am not keen however on his somber tone, I much prefer the humor of Michael Lewis.

  165. @Charles alexander I also prefer Lewis. He sets out to research and educate *himself* about a topic that interests him, whether it be momentous or esoteric, and takes the reader along for the ride. Gladwell seems content to play an intellectual version of Hopscotch.

  166. The fact that Gladwell’s books—books!—about ideas provoke any kind of media/cultural dust-up is reassuring. Not everything “popular” in America has to be trashy. And being criticized by a Harvard professor no longer means much—how refreshing. Gladwell’s latest sounds like the kind of soul searching and reassessment of “policing” our country needs. Let it be a bestseller, too.

  167. “On every level,” he added, “I feel like there is this weird disconnect between the way the world is presented to us in the media and the way it really is." Duh.

  168. @Reader K Exactly. That fact is practically defined by the word itself - media. A thing that is between the perceiver and the thing being perceived and is controlled by someone or something that automatically alters perception.

  169. Starting to get worn out by the ever present Malcolm Gladwell.

  170. As a minority I never had the luxury of trusting anyone because actions always trump words. White people are entitled and the rest of us need to disappear. Someone decided Ms. Bland did not deserve to live and a cover up began. Someone decided Mr. Gardner didnt deserve to live and a chock hold was administered. Someone decided that Mr. Epstein could expose to many other people so he was murdered and Mr. Barr started the cover up. Truth is always stranger than fiction whether you like it or not.

  171. Mr. Gladwell appears to make his living off of manners: how we treat each other based on our personal sense of morality. While I appreciate Ms. Chozick's excellent insights, we cannot escape the attraction he has to his fans. At least they read.

  172. This is tightly related to Blink's premise but here, in a moment, decisions are made depending on whether the stranger is "of my tribe, or not". If they're my "type" then I'm much more likely to "default to truth". If they're not, then I (too often) "default to danger and deceitfulness" as my operating hypothesis. The "snapshot impression" that leads us to make fateful and often wrong decisions are the result of our evolutionary, biological and cultural malformed adaptations to a modern world. This is the same sort of challenge artificial intelligence is confronting - algorithms learn from data that's given them, then make decisions about future observations. Those decisions "default to optimal" - but optimal for whom?

  173. It's the hair that does it. If Malcom Gladwell had an ordinary set of locks, he'd be giving talks to 6 elderly people gathered at the Reading Public Library in Pennsylvania. Two of them sleeping. Seriously, though, while Malcom (if I may) has been viciously attacked by high brow critics, has anyone done a thought-by-thought, idea-by-idea analysis and take down of his rambling treatises? So much easier just to slam him and move on. I read parts of many books that are fraudulent but I don't have the time, nor am not getting paid, to fully explicate their fraudulentness. From all indications, while he risks becoming more of a business person than a thinker, Malcom appears to work hard, study well and extract much from the scholarly papers he so assiduously dives into. The value of his thesis, and his massive readership, depends on bringing forth a well formed kernel of connective wisdom from the weeds of academic studies. It is a high wire act that seems likely to have a finite usefulness. How many conclusions can he draw that are of general interest and utility? As for wider fraud in publishing, book sellers, just like movie producers and music companies, feel they are forced at times to create and promote works they don't truly believe in. Thus, they become frauds. There is a tipping point here, though, when the available frauds start to out number and outweigh the good stuff, of which there is much to be admired.

  174. If you live in Manhattan and you make your living interviewing people who buys a voice recorder at Staples?? B&H Photo or Adorama makes a lot more sense.

  175. Much gossip and context, but not very clear as to what Gladwell's latest ideas are. For that reason, not a good article.

  176. @Bob Moore Agreed. I was expecting a bit more "meat."

  177. @Bob Moore - Here you go: "Human beings are by nature trusting — of people, technology, everything. Often, we’re too trusting, with tragic results. But if we didn’t suppress thoughts of worst-case scenarios, we’d never leave the house. We definitely wouldn’t go on dating apps or invest in stocks or let our kids take gymnastics...This is what Mr. Gladwell, in his new book, “Talking to Strangers,” calls “default to truth.”...The “default to truth” theory is Mr. Gladwell’s latest obsession and the theme of his first book in six years." Hope that helps.

  178. “I feel like there is this weird disconnect between the way the world is presented to us in the media and the way it really is." That's a quote from Mr. Gladwell and it immediately brought me close to him intellectually and I see him as authentic. It is extremely true. We can read the media and what they say about Venezuela and we know the truth is nothing like that. We can hear over and over in the media how horrid Russia attacked us during the 2016 election and it was nothing like that. Rachel Maddow has become a multimillionaire doing that scene. We hear how Medicare for All would cost too much and would not work. That is quite false and the reality could easily be quite the opposite. All other wealthy countries do it and many, many countries that are not wealthy. The propaganda from the media is a pile of lies. We hear how Joe Biden might be he best democrat in the bunch. Joe Biden is like the president he worked with for 8 year; a very conservative toeing to the fossil fuel companies, give wealthy large tax breaks (or continuing ones that were in place), taking massive funding from wall street and other corporations (legalized bribery--corruption). Obama did very, very little for working class people and did big time things for the military industrial complex. Like Obama and all presidents, Trump spoke of peace and getting out of foreign wars and cutting the military before he became president but once in office they all give the military every penny. I could go on.

  179. “On every level,” he added, “I feel like there is this weird disconnect between the way the world is presented to us in the media and the way it really is. The goal is simply to give people an opportunity to reflect on things they otherwise wouldn’t reflect on. What they do next is out of my control.” What is refreshing in Mr. Gladwell's podcast is his ability to be that voice, that one lemming standing at the edge insisting that everyone stop and at least look at events or issues in another way. To reveal the subtitles and nuance that makes up complex histories and interactions in life.

  180. I always had a lot of respect for University Professors. I thought they answered a higher calling and that they deserved their tenure. My husband was one but without tenure. He discovered and reported scientific fraud that would have further polluted the data base belonging to us all. He, not the perpetrator, lost his career. My husband's colleagues left him to his fate saying not one word.

  181. Gladwell never pretended to be a scientist. He is a story teller and a good one.

  182. @Arnold But he is making scientific claims. So his evidence should rise above the anecdote.

  183. @Arnold Except his stories are fairy tales he passes off as news stories. He absolutely implies that his conclusions are based on scientific evidence.

  184. @Arnold Without his claims of "scientific" weight, Gladwell's books would have the impact they deserve: zero. The day he concedes that he's just a story teller is the day he confirms his irrelevance.

  185. It often occurs to me that we are incredibly trusting creatures. I think about this sometimes as I drive home from work. I drive on a two-lane road for a number of miles. I sometimes think how the only thing that keeps a driver from crossing into the oncoming traffic is a double-yellow line painted on the road. Yet, we drivers trust that no other driver will cross that line. The same is true on freeways, where we're speeding along at 70 mph, just assuming that all the other drivers will stay in their lanes. Why do we put our safety and the lives of our loved ones in the hands of complete strangers and simply get in our cars and go? Gladwell's right--it's a miracle that we ever leave the house.

  186. @Ms. Pea I hope he reads your comment. The emotion that we blend into our intellect is what matters, and he's good at that mixture making.

  187. @Ms. Pea I have the exact same thoughts while driving - and riding my bicycle. I do trust that drivers won't intentionally try to harm me, BUT do I trust that they won't do so due to their own inattention or poor judgement? Not on your life.

  188. @Ms. Pea same for when I cross the street... The traffic light's red and though I see cars speeding towards me, I trust thru norms and experience that they will stop, thus not hitting me. A lot is left to chance and sheer luck that even allows us to be able to leave the house.

  189. To me, reading Gladwell is like a conversation with a smart friend—knowledgeable, but not with infinite knowledge. They pepper facts picked up along the way with stories they've heard or with their own experiences. Often they intrigue me, occasionally they inspire me, and sometimes they just plain get on my nerves. I don't expect them to always be right, but I appreciate the thought-provoking reflection. The conversation feels productive in some way, and I'm eager to see my friend again the next Sunday over brunch. I prefer those conversations with real friends—but in their absence, I'll gladly pick up a Gladwell book.

  190. @Ani xactly! I love theories for their capacity to open our minds and experiences. I am sorry that people seem so desperate for a one dimensional truth when it is so obvious that we live in an imperfect world that demands our attention and flexibility.

  191. As a 74-year old female fiction writer, I can tell you I’m not who Gladwell thinks is his typical reader. But I’m curious about human behavior and thankful to consider possible reasons that explain it. During my time as a government employee, Gladwell’s work was a consolation, a guide, and a useful reference in presentations and group efforts.

  192. @BJFM If only there was some sort of profession and skill set who studied human behavior from a scientific view and not an anectodical one. Wouldn't. That. Be. Nice.

  193. @Kate I believe the research field of Social Psychology addresses this?

  194. @Kate, I think there is plenty of research from a scientific view and most of it is boring. I've tried reading quite a bit of it and find it too dense and verbose to maintain my attention. At least with Gladwell you get some entertainment and fodder for thought. I enjoy his take on human behavior even though I don't accept every word as gospel.

  195. “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” ― William Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well

  196. @Phil Hurwitz Thanks. This is going into my quotes collection...

  197. @Phil Hurwitz, how about, “He who does not trust enough will not be trusted." --Lao Tzu Trust is a reciprocal contract.

  198. @Phil Hurwitz "Trust in God but don't forget to tie your camel" -- old saying

  199. Gladwell is perfect for an age that like cutesy answers to complex matters and you can sound like you know what you are talking about at parties, for about 5-10 minutes before a refill.

  200. @HistoryRhymes Hmm. Sheer curiosity leads me to ask the following: When you attempt to hold forth in a crowd, on account of self-referential, self-indulgent, grossly misinformed, and plain boring content - do you find an increasing number of people tuning out, breaking out in some mix of eye-rolling and yawns, or plain walking away? If so, your refrain is apt, and I am entirely sympathetic.

  201. @HistoryRhymes, I am no Gladwell acolyte. However, I feel the need to point out that in your snide comment you hint at, but swerve right past, the positive point of books like his. They provide readers with interesting talking points. That’s why they are popular book club fodder. Any book that gets people thinking and discussing (on subjects more engaging than the weather and sports) is a good thing. I’ve read books that had me yelling at the author, and disagreeing at every turn of the page. But it enriches me to think of the reasons I disagree. And I enjoy a good debate with anyone willing to hit back at me.

  202. Since when haven't humans been a shallow, superficial lot?

  203. In 1970, my father was physically assaulted by an off duty Chicago police officer who thought my father was taking photos of him selling drugs. He pummeled my father to the ground, destroyed his camera (my father had just left an art museum) and ran off. He was later arrested. My view of the police was changed forever. I don’t trust police officers, even officers I know. I’m of Euro-American heritage. So imagine being African American or other racial minority and actually feeling good about the police when your community is the target of persistent police abuse? It’s ain’t easy. Gladwell gets it wrong when he concludes that if only we weren’t strangers, there would no longer be bad actors in America’s police department. It’s got nothing to do with whether the police are “strangers” but depends on how police behave. People have bad interactions with the police due to bad police behavior, not strangeness. Police can be trained to act professionally, even in the most dangerous encounters. There are real police departments that train well that and get excellent results (e.g., Dallas, TX). Gladwell should focus on the facts and what works, not make believe theories based on his favorite anecdotes or stories.

  204. @Greg D. I think you may be right. All the kids in my various schools growing up (until high school) knew each other, but this did not stop the bullies from tormenting the kids they bullied. Perhaps knowing each other even fueled the bullying. Yet not all kids behaved like bullies. Something additional is going on.

  205. @Greg D. Spot on, Greg. I was raised to trust and respect police. And so I did until I had a several terrible experiences starting about fifteen years ago. (I'm in my late 50s.) I also learned the hard way that they all stick together and will cover for a fellow officer who is up to no good. If there was justice in this world, I know a few cops who would no longer be on the force.

  206. @Greg D. I think much of the problem is "self-policing." A tendency to circle the wagons around the band of brothers permeates and distorts every investigation. Not enough firm punishment for the first offense, and a lack of increasing consequences including loss of job and pension as the crimes increase in severity or frequency. Not to say they are ALL bad, surely most are not. But with the built in intimidation factor should come responsibility for transgressions.

  207. I sometimes see Mr. Gladwell at a local coffee place where I usually take an afternoon break from my desktop. He’s typically sifting through notes or a manuscript; I’m reading Ford Maddox Ford or something like Chekhov’s short novels, classics which I find give me more insight into contemporary culture than almost any current bestseller. I’ve met several now close friends having my coffee break there, and while I’m fairly certain Mr. Gladwell and I have acquaintances, perhaps friends, in common, I’m reluctant to lean over and introduce myself. Because—wait for it—"talking to strangers" is always a crapshoot in NYC (though with my Southern upbringing I should probably list that skill at the top of my CV). I admire his body of work, however, and wish him continued success. Oh, and by the way, I only drink coffee and water.

  208. @James L. Lovely note, James. And I admire your take on the classics. The insights are why they're classic. I believe in leaving celebrities alone as well. We don't own them I've had a soft spot for Gladwell since the opening of "Tipping Point" where he traces the rise of hush puppy footwear, a fad that was raging 20 years ago. Gotta love people who actually notice things, and can take a splotch and make a picture.

  209. @Nadia Thank you, Nadia. I've been absorbing all the classics I never had time (or the forethought) to read. Truly life-altering! Who knew "War and Peace" is a page-turner? Ha! Keep reading! J

  210. @Nadia Gladwell is not a "celebrity." Celebrities like to be noticed. Gladwell is a writer working in a coffee shop. Leave him be.

  211. Malcolm Gladwell is a gift to all of us. His work has enthralled me for years. I am not his target audience at 74 and retired. Nonetheless his work and my cross-hairs coincide. He basically answers the question for all of us, What REALLY gives? His is not virtual reality. It's REALITY, absent the misfires/imperfections that would characterize any non-fiction writer. That his works would sell in the millions makes a great deal of sense. We are truly blessed to read his work. May this middle-aged Canadian have a long writing life well into his 100s.

  212. Why do people think they should render (lengthy) opinions when they haven't read this book or any others by Gladwell?

  213. Love his books, writing and podcast. Is it news that someone, somewhere, criticizes him (or anything for that matter)? No. Haters gonna hate, specially in our always-on, polarized, anyone-has-a-megaphone era. The market has spoken. MG is great.Think you're better? We're waiting for your best-selling book.

  214. If you are going to decide what you feed your brain based in what the market says, just remember how truly "smart" the average person is and how there is whole half of the population which is even less smart than that. Doubt It? Check check "best seller lists" for t.v. programs, movies, books and publications. We are in the middle of "The Kardashian Age" with Donald Trump as the poster child of how low American society has fallen. Still trust the market for your choices?

  215. Gladwell likes to boast of being a Canadian, but like the most ambitious of them moving here he winds up in a country that offers material rewards, and far more social recognition, than he could ever find in his home country. So he’s another successfully ambitious immigrant, who, despite his Jamaican mother, does not identify with African-Americans but with his white side of his family, as his writing ever so topically touches on racial divisions here. As an immigrant, he knows next to little directly about African American racial experiences and racism other than second-hand. Oddly he has little to say about Canada and its troubled relationship with us. Nor does he offer much light on its contradictory racist history, such as its once laws against racial intermarriage, its segregationist legal history in eastern Canada, yet now purging of racist slurs as geographic names on its official maps, and putting the first black Canadian on its currency. But his knowledge of Sandra Bland’s jail death over a traffic stop, in fact, cuts a deeper cultural meaning for us natural born Americans than his superficial podcasts. If he is going to tackle racism as a topic,he ought to return to Canada for material on racism there that he knows first-hand.

  216. @Bayou Houma, someone who is biracial (or multiracial) has the right to “identify” with any part of his ancestry. Gladwell has no innate responsibility toward the African American population, simply because he has a Jamaican (not African American, of course) mother. But you bring up an interesting point about identity. I, with my female attitudes, was always put off by President Obama’s obsession with his Kenyan father, who seemed to have been present for little more than his son’s conception. I saw that as insulting to the (white) grandmother who raised an abandoned Barack to be the fine man he is. Furthermore, Obama’s family history was not that of a black American who could trace their roots back to the ugliest parts of our history. Yet he fully attached himself to that history. It’s puzzling. But people with their own stories in life.

  217. @Passion for Peaches In no way do I intend to suggest that any foreign immigrant here has “an innate” responsibility to a subset of Americans. Yet most of the recent first generation immigrants and even later generations express strong attachments (some would say allegiance) to their native country, as Gladwell does. But for someone of black African heritage from Canada, given Canada’s tortured and twisted racist history towards blacks there, as well as to its indigenous peoples, its corrupt Parliamentary system (see SJC Lavelin scandal), etc., Gladwell’s silence, if not disinterest, in Canada, except to boast of his connection, is, well, curious. Dontcha’ think?

  218. @Bayou Houma Not if you are Canadian.

  219. As with so many of his other conclusions, I take issue with Gladwell’s characterization of the Sandra Bland episode. Dashcam video shows Trooper Encinia making a u-turn to follow Ms Bland as she turns on to the roadway. This is before she fails to signal (an offense which would tie up all police all the time if it were equitably enforced). He then goads an upset Bland into anger. This passive-aggressive act escalates the situation. Encinia was fired for lying about this arrest. The result was not a failure “to engage in soul-searching about how we approach and make sense of strangers,” it was a case of a trooper abusing his power.

  220. Trooper abuse of power stems from something we're all guilty of: Constitutional ignorance. We are innocent in the sense that what we do is mostly based on whst we are told; but what we have been taught in public schools is not based on republican democracy, which has nothing to do with the Republican party, just as democracy has nothing to do with the Democratic party; but everything to do with people based polity and constitutional responsibility: a topic that has become so obscure, abuse of power defines the status quo.

  221. @Girard Bowe The theory of Occam's razor says is that the simplest answer is most LIKELY to be true, The arresting officer was not white. Toxicology report stated Sandra Bland was high when arrested and was a heavy user post-mortem. She did not comply with officer’s requests. Her family and friends ignored her pleas for help. A jail mate said she was distraught about this. She killed herself. Her family was awarded $2 million. Only in these times could this become a cause celeb

  222. @jon meadow Trooper abuse does stem in large measure from Constitutional ignorance, as well as an infatuation with power. I had failed to move over one lane on Interstate 40, while the Trooper had stopped someone else. This was a new Texas prohibition by law and I did not have notice of it. Nonetheless, the Texas Trooper put me in the back of his cruiser, and then threatened me and lied to me. Things continued after I had identified myself as an attorney and an officer of the court in Arizona. I am white. I would hate to think the consequences if I were a person of color. I wrote a lengthy complaint letter full of legal citations, threatening an action. Texas called, and later his captain wrote a terse letter saying no laws were violated. Five years later, the Trooper had another demerit of some sort, and was fired from his dream job. I learned that on Facebook. I'd like to think I had something to do with it.

  223. Gladwell provides good examples of how to value research, how to read it, and how to apply it.

  224. Given the widely shared criticisms of the verity of his work, I imagine that "trusting strangers" make up a huge segment of his audience.

  225. Thank god. There is so much hysterical misinformation about strangers. The “normal” way young Americans are supposed to live - never speaking to a stranger, never flirting with each other without a written agreement, never being expected to encounter our world without mom curating it first - is completely nuts. A college campus is one of the safest places for a young person to be. Youths at other locations face worse problems.

  226. A fan of Gladwell here. What makes his voice, his conjectures, his postulations, his observations, his inferences and eventually conclusions so important, worthy, relevant - is that the academically inclined among us use pejorative, dismissive vocabularies to hold forth on their disapproval and frustrations with Mr. Gladwell. Social science academics would be the people who derive hypotheses from what is already known, and then confirm what we already know, and who look very suspiciously at anything that is new. Or out of the box. As is Mr. Gladwell. He is hardly producing (or claiming to produce) theoretical, widely generalizable knowledge, based on intense review of literature, and rigorous testing of hypotheses based on well established scales. He is a journalist, not trained in psychometrics or mathematical modeling. I love that he is making a lot of money saying cool things - that also happen to bother academics. And in this enterprise designed to make him rich, and popular, and hopefully powerful - I intend to fully support him and buy his books and give them as presents to people I know. Keep on writing Mr. Gladwell. If some people don't like what you do, and are skeptical and dismissive, then you are definitely on to something that shakes up the status quo from which they derive their morbid, lonely - and I suspect meager - sustenance.

  227. He is not a social scientist. Any idiot can come up with a premise and find enough anecdotal evidence to back such claim and make up some kind of conclusion derived from such anecdotes. That is why we have the scientific method and we leave it up to social scientists to study and research the field. He needs to stick to review of literature, of what the ones that know have written and then make it easier for the pay people to read, period. As I said, any idiot can make any premise up and find enough garbage anecdotal evidence to "prove" the claim. Sadly, in our reality t.v. celebrity-driven society that is what sells.

  228. I was ready to write off Gladwell about the time Jonah Lehrer was being excised from high-minded society. Gladwell’s podcast and time on sports podcasts brought me back and I’m glad they did. All of his work isn’t bulletproof but most of it makes me think. In the end, isn’t that all we are really after?

  229. Critics love to hate Mr. Gladwell because he’s good at what he does. Rarely does a critic bother with the low-level failings of an amateur the way we saw with Simon Cowell on early-2000’s American Idol. The literary critique—spare prose, bro-isms, buzzword bingo—augments the intellectual critique—spare evidence, pseudo-science-isms, big-word bingo. Both are easily dismissed. The literary critic wants every new piece to be a classic, born for high school readings lists. Do we really want our young people to be turned off from reading because they’re only allowed to read “classics?” Is it not better to encourage them to read anything they like while they're young so that later they’ll endeavor to seek our more complicated material? Shouldn't we give adult readers similar freedom? And intellectual critics miss the opening that Mr. Gladwell creates. They’re worried that Mr. Gladwell’s theories will become the face of the field and mask deeper analysis offered by academia. Instead, they should see Mr. Gladwell for what he is: your favorite 101 professor who gives you a taste and encourages a deeper dive. His work is a supplement, not a substitute. Even he says so. Mr. Gladwell is a curious fellow with a talent for inducing curiosity in others. We should encourage that. Maybe curiosity about strangers will help the wallflowers join the fray. Maybe not. Either way, I know that good fences don’t make for good neighbors, and so does Mr. Gladwell. The critics should ease up a bit.

  230. And perhaps, as he chooses his topics, selects what for him are the critical legitimate questions and examples, which merit questioning and sharing to enable us both to know and to understand that which we do not, instead of quickly becoming engaged with answers offering too early closure, he should remind us OFTEN to acknowledge the ever-present, interacting dimensions of reality: uncertainties. Unpredictabilities. Randomness. Lack of total control, notwithstanding our efforts. Timely as well as not. By ourselves as well as with others. Kin. Ken as well as strangers.

  231. It already sounds bad. Instead of taking a society wide lens, like many in the self-help field he can't help but focus on individuals. It's ultimately a conservative way of looking at the world, even if covered in sympathy and compassion.

  232. It's not really any of those things, the habits or the perceptions of police stops. Gladwell's main inspiration for me is his ability to look at many "conventional wisdom" or "common knowledge" things in life with a blank piece of paper, deriving painfully obvious observations from an open mind. That is a lot of work. It's worth emulating. The fact that we fail invites criticism. However, who's really doing the work here?

  233. Malcolm Gladwell's work is speculative sociology and psychology. And he is very good at a genre of narrative that is very difficult to master. That he sells so many books and is in demand as a speaker attest to his lucid erudition. His critics no doubt are envious of his celebrity and success, a stature that escapes most academics. I am assuming the Harvard professor alluded to is Pinker, a fellow Canadian. Malcolm could have easily gone on to become an academic, an attorney, a full-time journalist, but he chose not to. That he has made his way in the world as a writer and maintained his independence is rather remarkable. I respect him all the more for steering clear of academia. I recognized that Malcolm's thinking had influenced contemporary North American culture by the frequency I would encounter the phrase "tipping point" among media pundits, just as the term "deconstruction" seeped into contemporary culture with the advent of Derrida four decades ago. I see Malcolm as a latter-day Susan Sontag or Anatole Broyard. He is certainly living the life.

  234. @Andrew Shin The phrase "tipping point" existed long before the Gladwell book of that name.

  235. @D. Smith, yes, it goes back to the 19th century in literal use. But it also gained traction in a disturbing, racist use in the 1950s. It was an odd choice for a book title, and thesis, for that reason.

  236. @Passion for Peaches @D Smith The relevant point is that Malcolm has recontextualized the term to describe a broader range of social phenomenon. He no doubt understands the term's provenience, including mid-twentieth century sociology's usage to describe the trigger for "white flight." The choice was not odd, but deliberate and knowing. The phrase became a much more visible element of media discourse after the publication of Malcolm's book.

  237. People really should read Tim Levine's forthcoming book "Duped," which details Truth-Default Theory - upon which Gladwell's book is substantially based (as he himself notes). Tim is THE top deception detection expert/scholar in the world, and his book details data from more than 60 published studies conducted over the last 30 years - looking at everything from Truth-Bias to behavioral cues of liars (spoiler alert: there aren't any). The bottom line? Human beings are cognitively predisposed toward believing all incoming sensory input - and it's very much in our evolutionary-adaptive self-interest to do so. As Tim likes to say, the cave dweller who fleed upon seeing a shadow that may or may not have been a lion lived to reproduce their genes, whereas the one who questioned is it real or not got eaten. Of course, this exquisitely well-documented Truth-Default also makes us systematically "dupe-able," although people can be fairly good lie detectors, if they eschew specific behavioral cues (none of which are systematically associated with lying) and instead focus on the content of what is said. Read "Duped."