18 November 2008

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Malcolm Gladwell's got a new book coming out. It's called "Outliers: The Story of Success." Even if you're not familiar with Gladwell, it's doubtless you've seen The Tipping Point or Blink. His books have their detractors and their faults but they are certainly entertaining and thought provoking. In fact, I believe Gladwell's work is overlooked a bit because his books are so easily accessible and populist. I'm not sure if he started the trend of this type of book but stuff like Freakonomics seems to me a direct result of Gladwell's strong sales and influence.

A few years ago I discovered Gladwell's website, where he's got all his articles from the New Yorker archived. It's a treasure trove. His pieces date all the way back to 1996 and each of them are worth a read. I find Gladwell's observations more gripping and easier to digest in shorter format, where it seems like he's not stretching as far to make a point. Plus, he really digs into some fascinating topics, many of them focusing on the (perceived) role of intelligence. Some of his other articles I've really enjoyed have been focused on food. Constructing the perfect cookie, investigating why ketchup doesn't come in as many varieties as mustard, or how caffeine created the modern world. This is stuff that's awesome to know.

Basically I think the appeal of reading Gladwell (aside from it just being interesting) is that it lets you feel smart, if just for a bit. You feel like you've really learned something and can now look at a part of the world in an illuminated light. His articles are like the type of fun conversation and observations you wish you could have with a bunch of friends over drinks or at the dinner table but rarely do because really, who in the world knows all this stuff? I saw Gladwell on a CNN round table once and was immediately struck by how much he reminded me of Cillian Murphy. Here's a video of him at TED talking about finding the perfect spaghetti sauce. I think I'd definitely invite him round to dinner if I had the chance.

Here's an excerpt from his new book addressing why Asian children are better at math. I mean, aside from the fact that we just study harder and our parents would kill us if we sucked.