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Monday, March 7, 2011

Who is Malcolm Gladwell?

Who is Malcolm Gladwell?  The entertainment writing world knows him as a Canadian writer for The New Yorker and best-selling author[1] based in New York City. He has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996. He is best known for his books The Tipping Point (2000), Blink (2005), Outliers (2008), and What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures (2009). Gladwell's books and articles often deal with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences and make frequent and extended use of academic work, particularly in the areas of psychology, and social psychology.

Early life

Gladwell's was born September 3, 1963  British father, Graham M. Gladwell, is a civil engineering professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada; his mother, Joyce E. (née Nation), is a Jamaican-born psychotherapist.[2] Gladwell was born in Fareham, Hampshire, England, but when he was six his family moved to Elmira, Ontario, Canada.[3]
According to research done by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., of Harvard University, in 2010 for the PBS series Faces of America, Gladwell's family tree includes ancestors of West Indian, Igbo, Irish, English and Scottish heritage. One of his European ancestors, an Irishman named William Ford, arrived in Jamaica in the late 18th century and with his concubine, an Igbo slave named Hannah Burton, he had a son named John Ford, whose descendants included a long line of privileged mixed-race Jamaicans, the Fords.[4] On his father's side, his great-great grandparents, Thomas Adams and Jane Wilson, left England and Ireland to take part in the Castlemaine gold rush in Victoria, Australia in the 1850s.[2] Gladwell has said that his mother, who published a book titled Brown Face, Big Master in 1969, is his role model as a writer.[5] His distant cousin is the Jamaican-American general and statesman Colin Powell.[6]
During his high school years, Gladwell was an outstanding middle-distance runner and won the 1500 meter title at the 1978 Ontario High School championships in Kingston, Ontario, in a duel with eventual Canadian Open record holder David Reid.[7] In the spring of 1982, Gladwell interned with the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.[8] He graduated with a degree in history from the University of Toronto's Trinity College in 1984.[9]


Gladwell began his career at The American Spectator, a conservative monthly.[10] He subsequently wrote for Insight on the News, a conservative magazine owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, before joining The Washington Post as a business writer in 1987.[11] He later served as a science writer and as New York bureau chief for the Post before leaving the paper in 1996. He is currently a staff writer for The New Yorker. His books—The Tipping Point (2000) and Blink (2005)—were international bestsellers. Gladwell received a US$1 million advance for The Tipping Point, which went on to sell over two million copies in the United States.[12][13] Blink sold equally well.[12][14] His third book, Outliers: The Story of Success, was released November 18, 2008.[15] His latest book, What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, was published on October 20, 2009. What the Dog Saw bundles together his favorite articles from The New Yorker since he joined the magazine as a staff writer in 1996.[16] Gladwell has told a number of stories at The Moth storytelling society in New York City. One, which he introduced as a "tall tale", was later fact checked by the Slate writer Jack Shafer and shown to be a tall tale.[11]


Gladwell's first work, The Tipping Point, discusses the potentially massive implications of small-scale social events, while his second book, Blink, explains how the human subconscious interprets events or cues and how past experiences allow people to make informed decisions very rapidly. Outliers examines how a person's environment, in conjunction with personal drive and motivation, affects his or her possibility and opportunity for success. Gladwell stated, "The hope with Tipping Point was it would help the reader understand that real change was possible. With Blink, I wanted to get people to take the enormous power of their intuition seriously. My wish with Outliers is that it makes us understand how much of a group project success is. When outliers become outliers it is not just because of their own efforts. It's because of the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances." [17]


Fortune described The Tipping Point as “a fascinating book that makes you see the world in a different way”, and the San Francisco Chronicle named it “one of the year's most anticipated nonfiction titles”.[18][19] The Daily Telegraph called it “a wonderfully offbeat study of that little-understood phenomenon, the social epidemic.”[20] Reviewing Blink, the Baltimore Sun dubbed Gladwell “the most original American journalist since the young Tom Wolfe.”[21] Farhad Manjoo at Salon described the book as “a real pleasure. As in the best of Gladwell's work, Blink brims with surprising insights about our world and ourselves.”[22] The Economist called Outliers “a compelling read with an important message.”[23] David Leonhardt wrote in The New York Times Book Review: “In the vast world of nonfiction writing, Malcolm Gladwell is as close to a singular talent as exists today” and that Outliers “leaves you mulling over its inventive theories for days afterward.”[24] The Baltimore Sun stated that with the collection What the Dog Saw Gladwell “does what he does best—finds the intersection of science and society to explain how we got where we are.”[25] Ian Sample wrote in the Guardian: “Brought together, the pieces form a dazzling record of Gladwell's art. There is depth to his research and clarity in his arguments, but it is the breadth of subjects he applies himself to that is truly impressive.”[26]
Criticism of Gladwell tends to focus on the fact that he is a journalist and not an academic, and as a result his work does not meet the standard of academic writing. He has been accused, for example, of falling prey to a variety of logical fallacies and cognitive biases. Critics charge that his sampling methods have resulted in hasty generalizations and selection biases, as well as a tendency to imply causation between events where only correlation exists.[27][28][29] One review of Outliers accuses Gladwell of "racist pseudoscience" due to "using his individual case studies as a means to jump to sweeping generalizations on race and class status",[30] while another review in The New Republic called the final chapter of Outliers, "impervious to all forms of critical thinking".[31] Gladwell has also received much criticism for his use of anecdotal evidence and general lack of rigor in his approach.[32][33]
Maureen Tkacik and Steven Pinker[34][35] have challenged the integrity of Gladwell's approach. Pinker sums up his take on Gladwell as, "a minor genius who unwittingly demonstrates the hazards of statistical reasoning", while accusing Gladwell of, "cherry-picked anecdotes, post-hoc sophistry and false dichotomies", in his book Outliers. Referencing a Gladwell reporting mistake Pinker criticizes his lack of expertise:[34] "I will call this the Igon Value Problem: when a writer’s education on a topic consists in interviewing an expert, he is apt to offer generalizations that are banal, obtuse or flat wrong."
A writer in The Independent accused Gladwell of posing "obvious" insights.[36] The Register has accused Gladwell of making arguments by weak analogy and commented that Gladwell has an "aversion for fact", adding that, "Gladwell has made a career out of handing simple, vacuous truths to people and dressing them up with flowery language and an impressionistic take on the scientific method." An article by Gladwell inaccurately referring to Finnish software engineer Linus Torvalds as the "Norwegian hacker Linus Torvald [sic]" was referred to by the group as a typical example of alleged sloppy writing.[37]

Awards and honors


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