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Malcolm Gladwell Explains Why It Often Makes Sense to Put Your Money on David, Not Goliath

The latest book by the best-selling author examines the power of 'underdogs'

Q: Has your publisher ever shot down one of your book ideas as insufficiently commercial?

A: No, but I'm not someone who has a lot of book ideas. I think a long time about what I want to write about before I approach them. So knock on wood, I've not had that problem.

Q: I hate the word "zeitgeist," but how do you manage to nail it so consistently? What's the secret Malcolm sauce?

A: There is no secret — it's pure luck! [Laughs] No, I'm serious — I don't think there's any secret. I'm just lucky that the things in my head correspond with the things in the heads of readers. But it's no skill on my part; I simply write about what I'm interested in. I've never deliberately tried to tailor my writing to my audience. I just tailor it to myself. I get excited about stuff and I try to put it in print. And I hope that someone other than my friends wants to read it.

Q: You have a lot to say in David and Goliath about the very real but also seeming disadvantages of dyslexia. Did you research any other conditions?

A: Well, attention deficit disorder is a really interesting one. I had a whole section about ADD in an earlier draft, but then I removed it. With all of these things, there's no question that disabilities can make someone's life difficult. But it's a mistake to think that there can't be upsides — there very plainly can be, and that's a crucial thing to keep in mind.

Q: What are you working on now that shows promise as your next book topic?

A: I have no idea — it's way too soon! I'm still recovering from this one! What I do is I take a little break and go back to The New Yorker, and I write New Yorker stories for a couple of years, and I replenish my batteries. And then I venture out again into the world.

Allan Fallow is a writer and editor at AARP Media.

Is Malcolm Gladwell a David or Goliath?

His new book about 'underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants' is a trademark compelling read — and he's quick to defend his formula for success. 

Malcolm Gladwell has done it again. In David and Goliath, he's written a collection of fascinating stories that will rivet readers and inflame critics. (The book's message in a nutshell: "Advantages" are often no such thing.)

Indeed, the latest round of Gladwell bashing has already begun. To the usual charges — that Gladwell oversimplifies, that he attacks straw men, that he's overpaid — has been added the new one that he "cherry-picks" stories that confirm his worldview.

It's hard to knock an author who's done so much to make social science so interesting, and accessible, to lay readers. Also, the man seems incapable of writing a boring passage; Gladwell has a knack for jolting us into seeing the world anew, and his writing style is so nouns-and-verbs that the pages fly by like torn-off calendar sheets in one of those cheesy fast-motion movie sequences.

And to hear the author tell it, he isn't exactly agonizing over the critical carping: "I pay more attention to readers than reviews," he says. "I've been profoundly happy with the way my books have been received [by the general public]. People come up to me on the street every day and talk about how much they like my books. That's what matters to me."

Although detractors once devised a "Malcolm Gladwell Book Generator" to churn out spoof titles such as The Cheers Effect: How and Why Everybody Knows Your Name, Gladwell might be justified in using a similar tactic to synthesize his own memoir title: Grit: How Telling Taut Tales About Why We Do What We Do Can Be a Foolproof Path to Runaway Bestsellers.  — Allan Fallow

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