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11 Quick Questions for Malcolm Gladwell

Best-selling author releases a new season of ‘Revisionist History’ podcast

spinner image malcolm gladwell with face resting on hand against teal ombre background
Photo Collage: MOA; (Source: Celeste Sloman)

Journalist and best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell, 60, is known for his unique perspectives on social phenomena and popular culture, and Season 9 of his popular Revisionist History podcast, which explores “the overlooked and the misunderstood,” launches in February. He shares the novel he loves to read again and again, plus his latest book project, upcoming podcast topics and who he would love to interview.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What did you do to celebrate turning 60 last year?

I don’t believe in celebrating my birthday. I don’t allow anyone to ever throw me a birthday party. I actually left the country so I could avoid having a birthday party, [among] other reasons. I haven’t had a birthday party since I was 5. I turned to my mom and said, “That’s it!” [and I haven’t had one since].

Why the aversion to celebrating birthdays?

I just decided that it seemed like an unearned privilege. So what, you’re born on this day? I didn’t get it. Back then [when I turned 5, I thought], so I’m supposed to invite a bunch of random people to my house just because I’d been born? That day I did. The logic of it eluded me at the age of 5, and it still does.

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You were a competitive runner as a teen. Do you still love to run?

I run five days a week. I run more than ever. Yesterday I was in the gym, but the day before that I did nine miles, and the day before that I did eight miles.

Any advice for people who hate to run?

If you don’t enjoy it, slow down. The line between walking and running is a very blurry one. You can just walk a little faster and you’re effectively running. And I always find that when I’m running, I don’t particularly like the first 10 minutes. You have to get over a hump, and then the last 20 minutes of a run is bliss. It just takes a little while to get into it, and then I find it extraordinarily rewarding.

Your last book, The Bomber Mafia, was released in 2021. Are you working on something new?

I am finished putting the finishing touches on the first draft of a sequel to my first book, The Tipping Point. I’m kind of returning to the question of how ideas and behaviors move through society. That’s what I’ve been working on. It could well be called Tipping Point 2.0 if I run out of imagination, but I haven’t figured that out yet. It should come out at the end of 2024.

Is there one book that you love to read again and again?

Yes, it’s the greatest thriller ever written: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John le Carré. I’ve read it many times. It’s just a beautiful, almost perfect book.

What is something all great writers have in common?

There are obvious things: We’re curious, we are willing to revise what we do over and over and over and over and over and over again. You have to be a little bit obsessive to be good at it. I think mostly it’s a profession for people who like listening to other people. I’m happiest when I’m listening to someone really interesting explain to me about something I don’t know anything about. What most journalists probably have in common is to get a special kind of delight, not from talking, but from listening.

spinner image malcolm gladwell sitting next to man under lights
Gladwell, seen here as the featured speaker at an automotive industry event last year, has written about corporate culture from an academic and sociological perspective.
Emily Elconin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

You recently welcomed your second child. How does your job impact your parenting style?

A lot of being a good journalist is about patience. You have to be willing to take the time to learn something, to figure out what’s going on, to be prepared to admit when you’re wrong, and to do all kinds of background research in an area you don’t know anything about. Those are great things that all apply to being a parent. Being a parent is about patience almost more than anything else.

Is there a dream guest you’re dying to have on your Revisionist History podcast?

I’ve always wanted to do more music shows. It would be really fun to have Joni Mitchell on a music show. She’s been so quiet for so long, and she’s a towering genius, so it would be really fun to be the person who kind of brought her back [onto the public stage]. I have this feeling she’s really interesting. I once did a very short interview with Joan Baez, and she was so utterly delightful. She just had so much courage. I’d love an excuse to hang out with her again.

What new topics can Revisionist History listeners look forward to learning about?

I think we can do something about animals. And I have all these fun things about dogs that I want to do. And we’re going to do a big thing on secrets. I was very proud of the last season, but I think this year looks like it’s going to be more fun.

Do you have dogs?

I have a cat named Biggie Smalls who dominates my life. I would love to get a dog, but with two small children and a cat, a dog might be a bridge too far for me.

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