All’s Well That’s Gladwell

by Mark Steyn

So I was reading John Gray’s piece in The New Republic about Malcolm Gladwell’s new book and, among other things, its offhand stupidity about Northern Ireland and Vichy France, when it all started to sound vaguely familiar:

If only he had been around to have a quiet word with British commanders, Gladwell seems to be suggesting, and share a few academic papers with them, none of the horrors that unfolded need ever have happened.

Gosh. Imagine if such a man were to give a speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, or press the reset button with Russia!

In Northern Ireland and elsewhere, he is in over his head. The yarns that Gladwell tells bear little resemblance to the tangled realities. This lack of reality, however, is what makes his books sell. It is not that the stories he tells are false. Rather, they belong in a category that is neither true nor false—a species of inspirational nonfiction in which fidelity to reality is of secondary importance, if not a hindrance. Gladwell’s trick is to have made edification seem like empirical research…

Hmm. If only such a man could be given the opportunity to design a health-care system – or enter into negotiations with Iran…

The inveterate simplicity of Gladwell’s stories comes not only from a resistance to complexity, but also from a denial of tragedy. This neglect of tragic choices is not just a defect in presentation, though it helps to confer upon his books their peculiar inimitable blandness. Suppressing tragedy is also a refusal to think honestly about power.

If only the governing class of Iran, and Russia and China and Afghanistan and Syria and Pakistan, read Malcolm Gladwell. Alas…

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