Malcolm Gladwell originally planned on a career in advertising, and there’s no denying that he’s built a hell of a brand for himself. Unfortunately, at this point the slogan could be ”Same great taste, less filling.”
The journalist and quasi-guru behind nonfiction juggernauts like The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers has made his living out of counterintuition, setting up conventional wisdom only to take it down — and the game is getting a little old. Unlike his subjects, Gladwell’s writing rarely subverts any of our expectations. While his latest round of rug-pulling glances on some interesting topics, the formula remains unchanged.
As usual, he splits David and Goliath into individual case studies supporting a larger thesis, piggybacking sociological observations on personal stories with prose as clean and uncomplicated as his minimalist book covers. His point this time is that underdogs are not to be underestimated. Take the case of the girls’ basketball coach who had never watched the sport in his life yet led his team to victory because of his unique perspective.
This subject matter may seem a bit odd considering Gladwell often comes off as more of a Goliath kind of guy. He reportedly commands upwards of $80,000 to speak to rooms full of suits, and his oeuvre is marked by a strong streak of corporatist can-do-ism. (This book contains his second admiring profile of a Goldman Sachs honcho.) Many of the stories follow a timeworn Paul Harvey-esque model (”And that little boy grew up to be…”); the fact that there’s a lot more anecdotal than academic evidence makes one think the author’s hands might be stained red from cherry-picking. While David and Goliath is still a quick, sporadically fascinating read, Gladwell’s returns are starting to diminish. He’s reached the wrong kind of tipping point. C