Thursday, November 13, 2008

The takedown begins

Well, if you're selling books like crazy and pulling down eighty grand per speaking appearance, a little backlash should not surprise anyone.
The bigger criticism of Gladwell is not that he’s unoriginal but that he’s unserious—that he takes substantive academic work and applies it to frivolous things (epidemiology and Hush Puppies, anyone?). While such an approach may endear him to business elites, it often infuriates cultural and political ones. Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, has said, “What Gladwell is marketing is nothing but marketing—the marketer’s view of the world. But that view of the world is, I’m afraid, idiotic.” The judge and legal scholar Richard Posner, in a scathing review of Blink for TNR, complained that it was “written like a book intended for people who do not read books.” Meanwhile, Carlin Romano, the influential literary critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, used his review of Blink to give its author a hazing and an ultimatum: “Gladwell, one fears, has come to his own tipping point, or—to be fuddy-duddy—fork in the road. This way, guru. That way, serious writer.”

Gladwell tends to dismiss this line of attack. (“It was a sending a man to do a boy’s work,” he says of Posner’s review. “The guy’s like this legal Einstein, and he’s slumming it with Blink?”) But when he talks about his previous books, he sometimes sounds as if he agrees with his critics. “When I read Tipping Point now, it does seem more like a product of a lighter time,” he concedes. “I was really interested in marketing at the time, and that’s not that weighty an issue.” Blink, he says, “is very kind of distant. It’s, ‘This is a lot of cool stuff! Do with it as you will!'"

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