Malcolm Gladwell: ‘I am everything I once despised’

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Malcolm Gladwell, who just came out with “David And Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, And The Art Of Battling Giants,” says in his hour-long Longform podcast:

Facebook is no longer an underdog — it’s now everything it once despised. I am everything I once despised. When I was 25, I used to write these incredibly snotty, hostile articles attacking big-name, nonfiction journalists. Now I read them and I’m like, “Oh my God, they’re doing a me on me!”

The critics do a Gladwell on Gladwell:
* “Gladwell should stick to shorter works” (avclub.com)
* “The morals of the stories [Gladwell] tells lack solid foundations in evidence and logic” (wsj.com)

More after the jump.

From Gladwell’s podcast (transcript provided by Longform)

On Michael Lewis (starting at 28:18):
My great hero as a writer is Michael Lewis. I just think Michael Lewis, believe it or not, is the most underrated writer of my generation. I think he is the one who will be read 50 years from now. And I think what he does is so extraordinary, from a kind of degree of difficulty standpoint. The Big Short is a gripping book, fascinating, utterly gripping book about derivatives. It blows me away how insanely hard that book was to do, and it’s brilliant. The Blind Side, I think, it might be the most perfect book I’ve read in 25 years. I don’t think there’s a single word in that that I would change. I just think it has everything. But he uses no science, right? Very little.

Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

It’s all story. But he does more work in his stories, makes much more profound points than I do by dragging in all these sociologists and psychologists. He’s proved to me that, if you can tell a story properly, you don’t need this kind of scaffolding. You can just tell the story. And so, I’ve been trying, not entirely successfully, but trying to move in that direction over the last couple books.

I don’t think people realize how hard it is to do a single narrative book. That’s one of the things I admire about Michael Lewis. He seems to be able to do it effortlessly. I don’t even think I could pull it off. Maybe it’s because I’ve never found an individual who’s story is rich enough. But, maybe I’m just not as good at developing a single story. I just think that’s kind of beyond me a little bit. … I would lose faith in my ability to keep the reader engaged. I’m much too nervous a writer. Whereas the amount of self-confidence you feel in Michael Lewis’s work, or Janet Malcom’s work … she’s so extraordinarily sure of her gift, she’s not in any hurry to start and she’s knows you’ll stick with her, because she knows she will deliver. To use a sports metaphor, Janet Malcolm and Michael Lewis are the people who are quite happy to take the last shot. I’m going to pass.

On quoting sources (44:41):
I am rarely nasty. If I write about you, I do not want you to ever regret having talked to me. In cases where I think someone will regret talking to me, I do not do the story or do not use the person’s interview or don’t use the parts they’ll regret having said. Part of that is my personality, partly it’s because there’s very little negative stuff you can put in a book or an article before you turn most of your audience away. Negative stuff is interesting the first time, but you’ll never re-read a negative article. You’ll re-read a positive one. Part of the reason that my books have had a long shelf life is that they’re optimistic, and optimism permits that kind of longevity.

But more importantly, as a journalist, if you interview someone your job is to select out what is relevant to the story you want to tell and to not use what is irrelevant to the story you want to tell. … That’s not false. It’s actually true. It’s what we do with our friends. It’s what we do with our parents. It’s what we do with everyone that we love. We edit our impressions of them. We’re blind to their faults in a kind of very beautiful way. And there’s no reason why journalists can’t do the same. I really object to this notion of journalism as this kind of, you know, if they said it, you print it. No. If they said it, you think long and hard about whether it’s necessary. And you think long and hard about the sense in which they were speaking. You think long and hard about whether if you asked them that question again whether they would answer the same way. And if you don’t think they’d answer it the same way a second time, you can’t use it. It’s not a game of gotcha.

* Longform Podcast #62: Malcolm Gladwell (longform.org)


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