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Malcolm Gladwell on genius
November 15, 2008 5:42 PM   Subscribe

Malcolm Gladwell asks: is there such a thing as pure genius?

An essay (in fact, a book extract) on the how genius seems to very often be a combination of (a) some base level of ability, (b) lots and lots of practice, and (c) luck and circumstance. Rings true from the perspective of this mathematician, at least. Via.
posted by louigi (67 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
this will gladwell
posted by DU at 5:52 PM on November 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


It's a good and happy argument, but doesn't even attempt to address piles of evidence to the contrary; that genius is something inherited and runs in blood lines (e.g. Gladwell notes that of Gates' parents, one was a banker and the other a lawyer; not exactly low cerebral jobs). Genius is undoubtedly both nature and nurture.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 6:05 PM on November 15, 2008


No. Genius is a matter of perception.
posted by scarello at 6:05 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I probably should have put 'genius' in scare quotes.
posted by louigi at 6:07 PM on November 15, 2008


Talent (genius)= interest + practice.

That'll never fly. Just like no one wants to hear that exercise and cutting calories will make you lose weight.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 6:08 PM on November 15, 2008 [6 favorites]


"Geek Pop Star", NY Mag - great article, about his latest book, and the whole Gladwell phenomenon including a pretty decent biography. Page 2, "The Gladwell Critics", should be interesting for Gladwell fans.
posted by stbalbach at 6:09 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


My experience says that it's innate, too. Most of the people I've know with something I'd call "genius" had it in spite of (and often in lieu of) anything like "practice". Many were horrible students in school, did not study, or bounced around menial jobs, not "using" their genius in the usual sense.

For example, the first time these people tried to paint, they did a remarkably good job. Same with first-ever carpentry projects. While most of us need to grind through our share of Homeresque spice racks before getting competent, those with real genius seem to apply a lot more (gasp) thinking in the first place, and come through surprisingly well even on their very first attempts.

Not master painters or craftsmen, mind you, but way better than the average first attempt.

Again, all just my own experience/observation. I don't have a book contract.
posted by rokusan at 6:09 PM on November 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Yes.
posted by Flunkie at 6:09 PM on November 15, 2008


Some people do have more talent than others, but hard work, focus, removal of internal inhibitions, luck, and determination are all factors -- but you still have to be smart enough to know what comes most naturally to you and to know you still have to work hard to get any level of competence.

Most of the time, it's not the effortless sort of "naturalness" that makes someone a "genius" -- many parents who supposedly have a child who is deemed "genius" believe in "hothousing" and with adults, you find that they can do one or two things extremely well at the expense of others, which makes me question how smart they truly are. The article doesn't really touch upon polymaths, though.

The question is whether that kind of obsessive focus really is "genius" or merely putting all of your energies toward a single discipline -- are people who are deemed a "genius" helpful in society these days? Does the world have a tangible benefit from a preternaturally smart person or is this merely a vanity label that sounds more impressive than it really is?

Finally, I find a lot of people confuse genius with extremely good memory -- someone memorizes well-known rules, tricks, and short-cuts, but when it comes to putting all the things they memorized into a creative or innovative enterprise, they fall short. That's not genius -- that's just regurgitation...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:09 PM on November 15, 2008


Just like success, 90% of genius is "just showing up". But when someone else also "shows up" it's that 10% that becomes important.
posted by DU at 6:13 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Speaking as a Malcolm, it would be awesome if someone could fix the spelling of Malcolm. There's a silent (and oft-forgotten) "l" in between the "o" and the "m".
posted by kalessin at 6:17 PM on November 15, 2008


genius seems to very often be a combination of (a) some base level of ability, (b) lots and lots of practice, and (c) luck and circumstance.

This is most especially true if you consider that the word genius shares its etymology with genesis and generate. You have to actually make something to be a genius.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:17 PM on November 15, 2008


And yet I put in 10,000 hours drinking and all I get is a really big liver.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:34 PM on November 15, 2008


Gates's parents may fit in as much with luck as nature. Someone growing up with parents who make good money will be more likely to have the money available to indulge their interests from little on, giving a step up on other people with the intelligence, commitment and interest.
posted by drezdn at 6:36 PM on November 15, 2008


I believe there are some people who excel in certain fields without needing the kind of concentrated study most of us might. They do well despite 'lots and lots' of practice.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:37 PM on November 15, 2008


A man is driving down a country road when he spots a farmer standing in the middle of a huge field of grass. He pulls the car over to the side of the road and notices that the farmer is just standing there, doing nothing, looking at nothing.

The man gets out of the car, walks all the way out to the farmer and asks him,
"Ah, excuse me mister, but what are you doing?"

The farmer replies, "I'm trying to win a Nobel Prize."

"A Nobel Prize? How?" asks the man, puzzled.

"Well I heard they give the Nobel Prize to people who are out
standing in their field."
posted by netbros at 6:38 PM on November 15, 2008 [17 favorites]


Malcolm Gladwell recently had a talk [flash video] on Poptech.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 6:44 PM on November 15, 2008


I hope people take this message to heart, in the sense that luck matters. Americans need to realize that you can work your ass off and have true genius and not be recognized for it-- otherwise, we will continue to promote this absurd notion that talent is always recognized and if it's not, it's not talent and you're a loser. And conversely, that if you succeed, you deserve it and so you can let everyone else rot.
posted by Maias at 7:14 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


The question is, are you born with the desire for knowledge that makes a genius, then?
posted by Phalene at 7:19 PM on November 15, 2008


It's a good and happy argument, but doesn't even attempt to address piles of evidence to the contrary; that genius is something inherited and runs in blood lines (e.g. Gladwell notes that of Gates' parents, one was a banker and the other a lawyer; not exactly low cerebral jobs).

Hah. More like genius is a function of having rich parents (Gate's parents were millionaires) helping you get into the best schools, networking with other rich kids which will help you get the opportunity to even use your smarts.

That is if we're defining "genius" as making a ton of money in the corporate world. People like Gates and Steve Jobs are often hailed as Geniuses -- even though luck played a huge part in their stories.

Now, I have no doubt that people who are high-end physicists and whatnot are probably geniuses, but they'll probably never get rich.
posted by delmoi at 7:39 PM on November 15, 2008


I know there is, because I am one.
posted by swift at 7:41 PM on November 15, 2008


Talent is hitting a target no-one else can hit, genius is hitting a target no-one else can see.
—Schopenhauer
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:42 PM on November 15, 2008 [20 favorites]


Yeah, I'd say there's no such thing as genius, period.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:31 PM on November 15, 2008


In economics output can be described as Y=A*K*L capital input, times labor input, times total factor productivity which is technology or something. I'm pretty sure that's technically right. Technology or something. I mention this because when I was a kid I thought of smarts as a substitute for work. But it's more like smarts make work more effective and work is more effective if you are smart. Like labor and capital. And then there's a third thing that people only pretend to understand.
posted by I Foody at 8:42 PM on November 15, 2008


This was a lot like other Gladwell articles I've read before, seemingly interesting on the surface, but in the end it only reveals a rather boring truth. Success takes hard work and good luck. Who would have thought it!?

He also pretends that "talent" and "genius" mean the same thing, Crabby Appleton Schopenhauer quote shows they don't.
posted by afu at 9:01 PM on November 15, 2008


And yet I put in 10,000 hours drinking and all I get is a really big liver.

You mean ... Genius Liver!
posted by YoBananaBoy at 9:18 PM on November 15, 2008


maybe not?
posted by kliuless at 9:21 PM on November 15, 2008


...researchers have settled on what they believe is a magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours...To become a chess grandmaster also seems to take about 10 years.

I've put in about 3x that amount, and I'm an 1800 player on my best day. That number alone does not produce success. It fails to account for, among other things, the ability to make connections with seemingly unrelated bits of information. Some people call it "madness".
posted by sluglicker at 10:10 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, come on, of course there is such a thing as intelligence. This article says it was found that people who are awesome at something are the same people who practice a lot. Not surprising. But then they assume correlation implies causation, and say "therefore, it's solely the practicing a lot that is responsible for the ability". That's crazy talk. They practice more because they've discovered they're good at it. Being good at things is exciting. You get respect for it. It makes you want to practice harder, and it's a vicious (or rather, virtuous) cycle.

Yes, obviously, if they didn't practice, their natural talent would not amount to much. I know that from experience. There are certain things I know I have a natural ability for, and whenever I do them I'm immediately better than other people who aren't too experienced at those things. I know that if I practiced like crazy at it, I could be a great actor, a passable musician, or a fantastic linguist. I can impress a few friends with my slightly-better-than-you'd-think amateur acting or my quickness at mastering any random language, but no one would mistake me for an expert in either. I've logged my 10 kh in engineering, so that's where I'm a real expert. But without my natural ability for logic and structure, I wouldn't have practiced programming so much to begin with.
posted by Xezlec at 10:31 PM on November 15, 2008


more or less unrelated, but a fun read: Uses of Adversity
posted by phaedon at 10:33 PM on November 15, 2008


Before I stumbled on MetaFilter, in my little group of friends and relatives, I thought I was a pretty intelligent and funny guy. Then I discovered I wasn't. Here, other's argued with me and I had to admit they were right. In my personal life, my humor makes people laugh. Here, I'm lucky to get a chuckle. MetaFilter is unique in this, that it attracts so many divergent minds and some of the brightest. It's been a humbling experience, for which I'm grateful. I'm leaning towards "genius" being the ability to make connections in the way James Burke meant. Of course, there's no substitute for hard work and a little luck too.
posted by sluglicker at 10:50 PM on November 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


Of course, there's no substitute for hard work and a little luck too.

Good timing doesn't hurt either. Gates 10 years later is just another schlub. 10 years earlier and he's... probably a lawyer.
posted by GuyZero at 11:42 PM on November 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Seems clear that there are outliers in all fields of endeavor. One can look at music, motorcycle racing, art, etc.

How does anyone explain Duke Ellington and others who go to new places, set new standards?

More operationally, it fascinated me to go to a Diego Rivera (art) exhibit which included sketches he made as a young boy, before he had any art training at all. Somehow, some way, he could draw really well... and this was recogized and he had the good fortune to go to art school, get in that loop. (He just as easily could have not been able to do so, which can leave me wondering how many people with exceptional talents aren't able to flourish).

In terms of something as different as motorcycle racing, there are a couple guys who grew up around bikes, played around with off-road riding, raced on pavement on a whim, immediately did astonishingly well, went on to win world championships (and they did have to work hard at aspects of it like physical fitness, learning to understand suspension set-ups, etc.)

From that and countless other examples in diverse fields, feels like "genius" or what is truly one-in-a-million ability equals innate talent plus circumstances plus good fortune plus hard work.
posted by ambient2 at 12:00 AM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I believe there are some people who excel in certain fields without needing the kind of concentrated study most of us might. They do well despite 'lots and lots' of practice.

They practice more because they've discovered they're good at it.


I'm going to disagree completely with both of these comments based upon what I've seen with top level athletes. The ones with an above average ability usually don't practice more, simply because they don't have to.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:51 AM on November 16, 2008


The term "genius" is overused and incorrectly at that. Ponder genius publicly enough and perhaps the label will get attached to you. I dislike Gladwell.
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 3:00 AM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I too find Gladwell tedious and pedantic, and when he discusses areas of science I know well, often simplistic and just plain wrong.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:18 AM on November 16, 2008


From the article: this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or 20 hours a week, of practice over 10 years... No one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time.

So if I spend three hours a day at MetaFilter for ten years, eventually I will make world-class comments.

Ah hell... who wants to be a genius anyway?
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:11 AM on November 16, 2008


I asked an askme about this 2.5 years ago, because I read an article about the same subject back then.
posted by davar at 5:29 AM on November 16, 2008


So if I spend three hours a day at MetaFilter for ten years, eventually I will make world-class comments.

It's more likely you will become a world class typist.

If you want to make world-class comments you have to spent three hours a day effectively trying to write world-class comments.
posted by srboisvert at 5:40 AM on November 16, 2008


If you want to make world-class comments you have to spent three hours a day effectively trying to write world-class comments.

Clearly my comment was not world-class. Alas, only 9000+ hours to go.

My typing skills, however, are at least adequate.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:51 AM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Now it occurs to me that MetaFilter's first post is less than ten years old so it must mean that no one has become a genius commenter here yet. (Unless they spent much more than three hours a day commenting for the last nine years, which would seem a little sad.)

If Gladwell's hypothesis is correct then truly genius MetaFilter comments will not appear until at least next year.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:10 AM on November 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's a good and happy argument, but doesn't even attempt to address piles of evidence to the contrary

Yes it does, but don't let that stop you. (Hint: He's not claiming all you need is lots of practice.)

I knew before reading the article that I would find it well written and stimulating, because it's by Gladwell, and I knew before reading the MeFi thread that there would be lots of people who barely skimmed the article in their haste to make a snarky comment to show that they know better than this famous guy, and others who didn't even bother to skim it, and still others who just want to mention that they can't stand Gladwell. I'm sure there's not a hint of jealousy involved; you're all just naturally talented and superior people who don't happen to feel like getting book contracts and grants.

Thanks for the post, louigi!
posted by languagehat at 6:12 AM on November 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Gladwell is a genius because he made a fortune inflating banal, observational stuff (love at first sight! money and luck matter! the devil is in the details!) into best selling books and expensive lectures. he's Dale Carnegie with an afro, but people seem to love that stuff, so more power to him. one of the few happy consequences of this global financial meltdown is that big corporations will from now on have less money to spend to have their managers enlightened -- usually in fancy settings -- by mountebanks like Gladwell.
posted by matteo at 6:58 AM on November 16, 2008 [7 favorites]


you're all just naturally talented and superior people who don't happen to feel like getting book contracts and grants

maybe we can simply spot fallacious arguments and snake oil sellers, but don't lose your penchant for giving bad grades to the MeFi class, I'm sure someone cares.

Gladlwell is simply someone who hangs out with various academics, listens to interesting stuff, and has a gift for boiling that really complicated stuff down to reader-friendly pablum mixed with a banal hook for people's attention. Gladwell himself admits -- in a recent profile somewhere, I don't remember where, it was a magazine -- that his stuff is pretty thin anyway.

but what he does, it's certainly a gift. it's even a form of genius, as I said above. he's like a smarter Tom Friedman (doesn't take much).
posted by matteo at 7:03 AM on November 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Another Gladwell hater, right on time! If it's so simple and lucrative, why aren't you doing it?
posted by languagehat at 7:07 AM on November 16, 2008


It seems the focus of the article is on 90% perspiration while others say that you can't discount the 10% inspiration. Of course both of them are necessary. The best musicians I've seen have been practicing each day for hours (I think Al DiMeola played 8h/day for 10 years straight and Bach churned out a piece per week), but there are still musicians who play for hours and develop great technique but have nothing original to offer.
posted by ersatz at 9:00 AM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


If it's so simple and lucrative, why aren't you doing it?

Don't forget, we've established its partly about luck.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 9:22 AM on November 16, 2008


Yes it does, but don't let that stop you. (Hint: He's not claiming all you need is lots of practice.)

...and I knew before reading the MeFi thread that there would be lots of people who barely skimmed the article in their haste to make a snarky comment to show that they know better than this famous guy, and others who didn't even bother to skim it...


Metasnark? Awesome.

Why not make an argument about why you hold your opinion of this guy, rather than just criticizing people who don't like him for their lack of thoroughness?

Their research suggested that once you have enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it.

This was the quote that bothered me the most. I know the nonexistence of talent wasn't his main point (the article was about being lucky enough to find opportunities for experience), but it was the part I disagreed with. "That" is not "it". That may be the symptom, but I do not believe it's the underlying distinction.

I'm going to disagree completely with both of these comments based upon what I've seen with top level athletes. The ones with an above average ability usually don't practice more, simply because they don't have to.

Thanks for that info. That surprises me a lot. I guess the situation is more varied than I'd thought. But I can promise you that some people (me!) practice certain things more because they felt good at them at an early age. My friend Natalie plays guitar nonstop, and is amazingly talented. But she plays because she is good. If she tries something and doesn't feel like she can do it well, she usually gives up quickly. Her talent is natural. I saw her play drums for almost the first time in her life and she was already amazing, like someone who had practiced. I believe she is a musical genius. Convince me otherwise.

Sorry for the long post.
posted by Xezlec at 9:35 AM on November 16, 2008


Gladwell's a talented writer, no doubt about it. But is he a writer or a paid speaker?

That's a question that's debated by many including Gladwell himself.

He's spoken to many businesses and interest groups. You can hire him through this group.

We're talking about a lot of money here. Gladwell reportedly collects $40,000 per appearance.

He's not the only one. Gladwell's agency also handles the NYT's Paul Krugman and James Surowiecki of the New Yorker.

He says in this well-thought out disclosure statement that these speaking engagements expose him to new ideas and sources:

Let's talk, then, about my speeches, since that's clearly the area the question of biases and opinions is most fraught. Does the fact that I am periodically paid by company X or organization Y to deliver a speech about the Tipping Point or Blink affect, in some way, the content or the direction of my writing? I think the answer to that has to be yes. '

Gladwell ultimately takes comfort in the fact that he writes so widely, which makes it harder to become biased, although he is open to the possibility that it may still happen:

If my writing is biased or unfair, then the evidence of that bias and unfairness is a matter of public record, and any reader has the freedom—and the responsibility—to hold me accountable.

Some news agencies, like The Washington Post, Gladwell's former employer have banned this practice, with some notable exceptions.

Gladwell's speaking fees have been the subject of a column by Slate's journalism ethicist Jack Shafer.

My two cents is that Gladwell is biased in favor of writing the kinds of books and articles that will earn him big speaking fees at business conferences.
posted by up in the old hotel at 10:39 AM on November 16, 2008


Hmm. Running the numbers on myself, I'm well past the 10,000-hour mark in terms of spending time doing searches and reading online. Probably somewhere around there when it comes to reading books and magazines, as a separate measure. And I'm within +/-1,000 hours of that mark, depending on how I calculate it, when it comes to performing editorial tasks, esp. copy-editing, proofreading and writing.

So basically I'm getting pretty good at fast scanning and distilling information. And typing.

Unfortunately, during the time I've been logging my hours in those, I've neglected music and art, which were my other two natural fortes. So while I've been creating art for at least 20 years, on and off, and playing music for at least 17 years, I'm not nearly as good at those as I could be. Though weirdly, I picked up guitar again recently, after many years of neglect, and found it easier than ever to play. I wonder if some of the mental connections fostered by that other stuff are transferable...
posted by limeonaire at 10:48 AM on November 16, 2008


[fixed fpp spelling of malcolm, fyi.]
posted by jessamyn at 11:46 AM on November 16, 2008


Superficial and unimpressive, as usual from Gladwell. Languagehat, if you like him so much, why don't you actually make a case for him? (Aside from "Look how much money and press he's getting, why can't you do that?", which is a bullshit argument and you know it.)
posted by nasreddin at 12:00 PM on November 16, 2008


Is there such a thing as pure genius?

Modesty forbids me from answering this question.
posted by webmutant at 1:14 PM on November 16, 2008


(Aside from "Look how much money and press he's getting, why can't you do that?", which is a bullshit argument and you know it.)

No kidding. I mean, is Tomas Friedman the biggest genius out there because he sells the most books about how smart he is?
posted by delmoi at 1:40 PM on November 16, 2008


I'm going to disagree completely with both of these comments based upon what I've seen with top level athletes. The ones with an above average ability usually don't practice more, simply because they don't have to.

Thanks for that info. That surprises me a lot.


So you're willing to take the unsupported word of some guy on MetaFilter based on anecdotal evidence over the research Gladwell has done which leads him to the opposite conclusion. Which makes sense, of course, because MeFites are all unappreciated geniuses whereas published authors like Gladwell are clearly hacks who don't know what they're talking about.

Languagehat, if you like him so much, why don't you actually make a case for him?

I said his writings are well written and stimulating; what more of a case do you want? If you don't find them that way, that's your loss; I'm not about to waste time trying to convince you, any more than I waste time on people who think Mozart or Shakespeare is overrated. (Note: I'm sure I don't need to explain to someone as intelligent as yourself that I am not saying Gladwell is up there with Mozart and Shakespeare.)
posted by languagehat at 2:24 PM on November 16, 2008


(Aside from "Look how much money and press he's getting, why can't you do that?", which is a bullshit argument and you know it.)

Good thing I didn't make it, then. WTF?
posted by languagehat at 2:25 PM on November 16, 2008


I'm going to disagree completely with both of these comments based upon what I've seen with top level athletes. The ones with an above average ability usually don't practice more, simply because they don't have to.

Thanks for that info. That surprises me a lot.


Going from the only sport I really know anything about, which is Judo, I would disagree. One of the greatest Judoka of all time, Masahiko Kimura wrote:

I kept on thinking everyday, "I want to become a true winner." About 10 days after this, I came up with a solid good idea. That is, "San-bai no Do-ryoku (Triple Effort)". Until then, I practiced about 6 hours a day. I thought practicing twice as much as others would be sufficient since I had heard that others were practicing about 3 hours a day. In reality, however, they had been practicing about 4 hours a day (which I found later). But now I am the champion, others would start to train 6 hours a day to beat me. I could not beat them as long as I trained as hard as others. If my opponents train twice as hard as others, then, I will train 3 times as hard as others, i.e, 9 hours a day. This way, I would gain extra 3 hours a day, and I will do this everyday. The accumulation of these extra hours will become my flesh and blood, that is, my skills and mental power. This will automatically give me real self confidence. If I had this much accumulation, I would be able to fight as usual even if I got sick with fever at 40 degrees centigrade. I practiced "Triple Effort" everyday.
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:47 PM on November 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


I said his writings are well written and stimulating; what more of a case do you want? If you don't find them that way, that's your loss; I'm not about to waste time trying to convince you, any more than I waste time on people who think Mozart or Shakespeare is overrated.

Obviously you're entitled to your opinion. But the fact that you then suggest that we all dislike him just because we're jealous of his superior intellect and professional success seems to call for some further justification. For what it's worth, I dislike him mainly because he represents a kind of blandly pop-scientific conventional wisdom that takes you right to the point of challenging your preconceptions and then reassures you that you were right all along. I also think that's the reason he's so successful--the same goes for Friedman and almost everything in PsychologyToday.

Good thing I didn't make it, then. WTF?

Well, I can't think of another plausible way to interpret these comments:

I'm sure there's not a hint of jealousy involved; you're all just naturally talented and superior people who don't happen to feel like getting book contracts and grants.

Another Gladwell hater, right on time! If it's so simple and lucrative, why aren't you doing it?

posted by nasreddin at 3:12 PM on November 16, 2008


I enjoy Gladwell immensely. He challenges assumptions and provides insight into things I thought I understood. Now I might not be as smart or snarky as other Metafilterers here, but I'm not embarrassed to say that I find Gladwell to be a great writer in general and have enjoyed his previous books.

I also enjoy Carnegie. And afros too.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 3:40 PM on November 16, 2008


Comrade_robot, I did say usually. There are of course the superstars. It has also been pointed out here, and I would agree with, that people with above average aptitude in any given endeavor usually don't make it to the top of their field. I would add that typically these types of people don't care to because they are never challenged in that aspect so they never develope the drive.
Judo is a great example for this. Someone with a lot of strength would do very well in Judo up until they hit a green/brown belt status. They would not need to learn much technique to get by and thus would eventually be left behind unless they put in the extra time for practice.
I've known tons of people who could pick up a pencil or a ball and make magic happen and then when you look at them wide-eyed they shrug it off.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:30 PM on November 16, 2008


Now I might not be as smart or snarky as other Metafilterers here, but I'm not embarrassed to say that I find Gladwell to be a great writer in general and have enjoyed his previous books.

I think Gladwell is a great writer as well. That's why I find him so annoying. He pulls you in with the clever prose, but when you get to the end of his stuff there isn't much there. I find the same thing happens with Nick Hornby's novels.

But it seems that Gladwell has decided that he is going to try and improve educational opportunities for poor kids, which is , even if he does make stupid arguments about Rice cultivation and mathematics.
posted by afu at 6:57 PM on November 16, 2008


Afu pretty much nails it for me. Gladwell is a very good writer. But if you look closely, he hasn't done a great deal of research; he's writing closely about one or two lines of research, and about the researchers themselves, and not talking much about the wider body of literature in the area. (On preview, I should make it clear I'm talking about his previous two books; the linked article doesn't do this so much, IMO).
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:15 AM on November 17, 2008


Well, I can't think of another plausible way to interpret these comments

Really? I find that hard to believe; you're a smart guy. Think real hard. I'll give you a minute.

...

Still stumped? OK, I'll spill the beans: the first one suggests that some people might be jealous of his success, the second asks "If it's so simple and lucrative, why aren't you doing it?" Note that neither implies even slightly that I think he's good because he's successful; since that's such a simpleminded and ridiculous interpretation, I am unwilling to ascribe it to you, but I confess I can't think of another plausible way to interpret your comment. Mind you, I can understand how you, a devotee of (forgive me) incomprehensible postmodernist gibberish, might find straightforward writers like Gladwell boring, but surely you don't expect everyone to share your tastes.

Gladwell is a very good writer. But if you look closely, he hasn't done a great deal of research

You're not seriously suggesting that good writers are somehow obligated to be researchers as well?
posted by languagehat at 6:31 AM on November 17, 2008


Thanks for fixing the spelling mistake, jessamyn.
posted by louigi at 10:06 AM on November 17, 2008


I think Gladwell is a very good writer.

He is like a kind of science suspence writer. He doesn´t really tell you or show you the information or conclusion, that he wants to give you, but he seduces you to ponder the subject yourself.

When you reach the end of the piece, you feel like you have discovered the conclusion yourself.

That is why it is so engaging.

His uses ancedotes that make you wonder, where is all this going? And then he hits you with a surprise conclusion or by posing another mystery.
Take this article. By the end, when he reveales the birthyear of the Sun Microsystems founders, the reader feels like, he has just discovered the Holy Grail ("Holy shit - they were all born at the same time!") when in fact is it pretty mundane information.

The points this article make, is not all that surprising (It takes a lot of practice to become a master of something and Great men and great fortunes are made, when times and technology change), but the WAY he tells the story, gives the reader that "Aha!"-feeling of discovery.

That - not the research - is why Gladwel sells a lot of books.
posted by up!Rock at 1:26 PM on November 17, 2008


Maybe his name is Gladwell....

I can't be bothered to do the research.
posted by up!Rock at 1:33 PM on November 17, 2008


A rather negative review of Gladwell's book in the New York Times.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:45 AM on November 19, 2008


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