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Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

Gladwell is more or less in the self-help genre. Is there any self-help book that is really helpful?

He is also an amazing success. Many people are unamazing successes--the woman who takes over her mother's successful business, for example. But look at how many amazing successes (Walt Disney comes to mind) are apparently shallow, inconsequential, childish and so on. People like them, so they're successful. Liking is always a mystery.

If Gladwell has a steady, serious point, he would be like Dale Carnegie: the supporter of some ruthless conservative myth. By jumping from view to view he retains the charm of the self-help genre without its nastiness and pomposity.

He is part of the New Yorker culture: people who can write charmingly about anything, and have honed that skill for generations. He's not the only New Yorker writer whose charm sells his books, but he does seem to be the most envied one. Who knew that being just a little more serious than James Thurber could make someone so much money?

james m. rawley

Redlands, CA

Nov 28 2009 - 1:20pm

Web Letter

I simply could not bring myself to read this entire article. I was interested in it because I had just finished Outliers. I actually enjoyed Outliers. I thought the concepts were simple but not obvious. However, I was dismayed that Gladwell did not seem to find any women who were Outliers. Except a mention of his family that he stuck into the epilogue. I am looking forward to the sequel to this book, Outliers, Women's Edition.

Coleen Martinez

Houston, TX

Nov 18 2009 - 10:58am

Web Letter

I assume that the lack of clarity in this article is intentional: some sort of meta commentary that says "writing about Gladwell is so convoluted that in writing about writing about Gladwell I have no choice but to make my writing extra muddy." This is a shame, because when you tease out the author's points, she is correct on every one. To wit:

1) Yes, Gladwell does aim for the shallow and facile thesis, ideally one that "surprises" anybody who has never given the issue more than ten minutes of thought.

2) Because his conclusions are so shallow, Gladwell has no problem gleefully contradicting himself down the road.

3) Conclusions drawn from limited data, or from anecdotal evidence, no matter how well written, are often wrong.

4) Clever packaging is more important than quality content, whether you are selling books or toothpaste or securitized mortgages.

I just wish that Ms. Tkacik had made these points in a more straightforward and robust fashion, although I do love the way she turns a phrase: "Which is to say, every time Gladwell begins to close in on a conclusion of real meaning or intellectual impact, he clicks his heels and returns to the mental Melrose Place of quippy clichés," for example, is brilliant.

Here is a blog entry that further takes Gladwell to task.

Steve Crane

thoughtbasket.com<br />San Francisco, CA

Nov 10 2009 - 1:33pm

Web Letter

I have to agree with Vincent Sheffer's letter. I haven't read any of Gladwell's work, and after reading this review, I may not bother, but even if Gladwell is peddling yet another brand of anti-intellectualism, he is saying something that people need to hear: we are not each of us utterly self-made. The fantasy Marlboro Man mystique in the US does incalculable damage to our society, our economy and our democracy. Far too many people believe that their success or failure in life is due solely to their own efforts and decisions, and that any set of circumstances can be overcome on the way to the top. That this is obviously not the case to me or Vincent Sheffer or the author does not mean it is obviously not the case to a great many people who buy into the conservative mythology, almost universally to their own detriment. People need to cut themselves some slack for their failures and stop hero-worshipping CEOs.

Jason Spicer

Washougal, WA

Nov 10 2009 - 1:27pm

Web Letter

While the pundits on Gladwell may well have been Gladwelled, it is apparent that the editors of The Nation, in abandoning their standards of clear and meaningful writing, have been Tkaciked.

Ric Gerace

Falmouth, MA

Nov 10 2009 - 1:25pm

Web Letter

I read this meandering article with some incredulity, as the author seems so sure that the themes of Gladwell's books are so obvious. Now, I will confess that I have only read Outliers, but the notion that riches are not obtained via any route other than entirely through the hard work and talent of the rich is as pervasive in US society today as the mere act of breathing.

Now, I certainly have long subscribed to the notion that success in life is not due solely to the acts of the individual and instead, are a combination of upbringing, parents, society demographics. That realization does not in any way diminish the accomplishments of, say, a Bill Gates. But to ignore the larger societal factors that allowed Gates to amass so much wealth is just as fallacious.

So, I would agree that the realizations that Gladwell documents in Outliers should be obvious, but they most certainly are not. Again, I don't know what society the author of this critique of Gladwell has been living in, but the one I've been living in most of my life most certainly does not count larger trends and societal factors in assessing any individual's success in life. Quite the contrary, considering such factors is tantamount to communism in our Ayn Randian-dominated times. Times in which we continue to see Wall Street Masters of the Universe roll hard-working geniuses completely worthy of their grotesque remuneration. That this narrative can remain dominant given the harm the MOUs have done to society tells you all you need to know about how society continues to assess "worth," and it most definitely is not consonant with what Gladwell describes in Outliers.

Vincent Sheffer

San Francisco, CA

Nov 9 2009 - 10:57pm

Web Letter

This article seems very interesting. I look forward to reading the English version.

Steve Jones

Philadelphia, PA

Nov 5 2009 - 5:06pm