Malcom Gladwell, author, essayist, and perennial bestseller released his newest book, "What the Dog Saw," a collection of essays previously published in The New Yorker. Despite or perhaps because of his success, Gladwell has always had detractors. Academics often accuse him of a classic fallacy: finding causation where only correlation exists. Yet Gladwell's harshest critics often pair their disapproval with the reluctant, if not painful, admission that they admire his work. In the spirit of such inquiry, the following Gladwell critiques contain the best backhanded compliments, reserved praise and spiteful criticisms hurled at the author:
- Don't Write Books, That's What I Do Steve Pinker, a Harvard professor of psychology and author of "The Language Instinct" and "The Stuff of Thought" reviews
Gladwell's new book in The New York Times: "Gladwell has become a brand,"
writes Pinker. He is a "dilettante" with a "lack of technical
grounding" whose "education on a topic consists of interviewing an
expert." Though Pinker gives glowing praise for Gladwell's short form
work, it's as if Pinker wants Gladwell to back off his turf and stick
to essays in The New Yorker: "Readers have much to learn from Gladwell
the journalist and essayist.
But when it comes to Gladwell the social scientist, they should watch
- An Incoherent Writer Who's Detestably Readable, writes Maueen Tkacik
in The Nation. What angers Tkacik most aren't Gladwell's "puzzling"
beliefs, but his engaging writing. She's confounded by "his continued
defense of the pharmaceutical industry even as he advocates for
single-payer healthcare; his refusal to indict the financial sector's
rigged 'star system' as the engine of corruption that it is; the
meticulous bleaching of his own prose so that he's whitewashed out any
real context, any framework in which wars and economic collapses can
actually be understood as wars and economic collapses rather than
simulations or malfunctions; his near total avoidance of academic
thought that does not base its findings on things observed in labs; his coyness about politics; and
most memorably, his irritating, unrelenting readability."
- He's Sickeningly Good, writes Tony Ortega in The Village Voice: "Whenever we see a piece by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker,
know exactly what's going to happen. We'll be entertained and
titillated as the frizzy-haloed essayist takes us once again into the
trippy world of statistics and ideas, only to confront us with evidence
that some axiom or law we thought was on solid ground is in fact
misleading and counterproductive. Our immediate reaction is nearly
always the same -- 'Wow! I never
thought of it that way. What a genius this Malcolm Gladwell is!' But
then, inevitably, as his seductive reasoning sinks in, we get
the nagging feeling that Gladwell's been gaming us, and that despite
the requisite overlooked small-time experts that he's dug up to back up
whatever it is that he's debunking, we wonder if he really isn't full
- Gladwell's Just Lucky He Wrote in the 90s, observes Isaac Chotiner in The New Republic: "When Malcolm Gladwell began writing for The New Yorker in
1996, the economic 'boom' had reached the stage where its effects could
be glimpsed in the culture and even the language of the country. Robert
Rubin and Alan Greenspan were celebrated as intellectual giants who
transcended the worlds of finance and politics. The expansion was so
astounding as to seem arcane; and the time was ripe for a writer to
explicate the seemingly mysterious phenomena, and to instruct
readers--especially in the business community, which is always looking
for a new theory of the deal--in the arts of all this epoch-making
marketing. At just the right moment he came along and in disarmingly
affectless and faux-naïf prose adapted the work of academics
and sold it to a mass audience. Historians will look back on his books
as primary documents of their dizzily materialistic day."
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