Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on October 1, 2010
Malcolm Gladwell is good, and we need a new word in the English language to describe what he does. I'm in favor of something like "Empirical Sociologist" or "Theoretical Historian." It seems like the sociologists talk too much about what *might* exist in some abstract reality, but then readers who want something more concrete or to think about things that explain extant reality go from Scylla to Charybdis if they pick up a history text-- which may be a very long recitation of facts without any analysis of why it may have happened. Of course historians would/ will/ do have problems trying to explain very large phenomenon. But then if the phenomenon that they are trying to explain become too small, then it is like a explanation that is too long for an event that is so simple. Gladwell seems to choose the middle ground by choosing (1) events that are neither too large nor too small to explain and (2)striking just the right balance between the empirical and theoretical realms.

Other good points:

1. All of these essays are just long enough to develop the concept sufficiently AND keep the reader interested. Books that go on for hundreds of pages expanding an idea (that is actually very simple) are not easy to make it through. This book was very easy to get through.

2. "The Picture Problem" chapter is really a chapter about trade-offs in resolution and clarity of knowledge. But no one could make a chapter entitled "A discussion of trade offs between resolution and clarity of knowledge" and find more than 100 people outside of academia who would pick up such a book. Gladwell *was* able to do that with that chapter-- and most of the others.

3. The chapter on the correlation between career success and IQ was stellar ("The Talent Myth"). The two examples that he chose (Walmart and Enron) were two textbook examples of opposing lines of reasoning in that which concerns company organization. But Gladwell actually showed what had happened in the cases that people carried those lines of reasoning to their logical extreme.

4. His chapter on "The Paradoxes of Intelligence Reform" was very good and answers a lot of the questions that people might have had about problems with faulty intelligence in the Iraq invasion It really is fair to say that some things just can't be known clearly (1) and that any Commander in Chief has enough to sort through to draw the wrong conclusions just by accident (2).

5. Gladwell revisited Enron in the book to demonstrate a second point, and that was that: Too much good information can lead to the same results as a small amount of bad information. I never knew that the total number of pages of information that could be found on Enron's financial information (that were published by Enron) ran to 3,000,000 pages! That is more than any person can read in a lifetime. It was actually the case that Enron *did* disclose their information, but that they disclosed too much for any single person to understand.

5. Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote two very good books (with some overlap between them), and Gladwell seems to have done what Taleb was not able to do-- which was get across the point of his books in a minimum of space. I count something like 25 pages that is an adequate synopsis of what it took Taleb two books of 400 pages (each) to get across.

The fact that this book was a collection of essays does not mean that the book did not have a "center of gravity." If someone asked me how to characterize this book, I would say that it is a series of case studies of historical happenings of limited scope-- not so long and involved as to be unwieldy/ boring but not so short as to be pedestrian and devoid of good information/ thinking/ thought questions. And so the parts of the book *are* all related in that way. It goes without saying that the book can be read out of order. We also don't find any references in this book, which may have been Gladwell's way of conveying to us that the essays were not exhaustive and rigorous, but rather-- how to say?-- impressionistic. I could have done with some references, but the book was diminished that much by the lack thereof.

Since this is reprinted material, I can't recommend paying the hardback price for this. Cost-wise, this book is worth about the price of a new paperback or a secondhand hardback (price is about the same right now, and the second is what I paid for). I feel that I got my money's worth.
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