What makes Malcolm Gladwell a good writer?
Five brief thoughts
I have had this conversation several times since I wrote How to Write Like Malcolm Gladwell, and Gladwell takes a lot of flak these days, so here are some brief thoughts on why he has been so successful.
Have you read non fiction from the pre-Gladwell era? The mid-market list from the noughties, nineties, and earlier isn’t great. Whenever I pick one of those books up for research I am amazed how thin they are.
Social science research isn’t as conclusive as it looks. Most non-fiction gives an answer, some big solving idea that will change the world. Mostly it is way too specific and over generalised. Gladwell might not say this, but it’s his operating mode. He gestures and speculates beyond the strict research findings because he knows they are not the final answer.
Others like Michael Lewis are way more story based than Gladwell, who actually uses a lot of information in his writing. Gladwell is looking particularly good right now…
He has a lot of technique—syntax, style, etc—at his disposal and he uses it effectively. As well as being immersed in modern culture, he knows the Bible, and a lot of history—breadth not all of his competitors make use of.
Many important ideas have been spread widely by his work, and thus discussed more than they would have otherwise been. Isn’t that the whole ball game?