Have you ever wondered why certain things become trends while others fall away into forgotten oblivion? Or why you remember certain children’s TV shows so well while completely forgetting others? The truth is there are several factors involved in answering them, but Malcolm Gladwell answers these questions and several others. His answer? Every epidemic, whether social, viral, or anything else, builds until it reaches its tipping point.
There are a lot of nonfiction authors who write well and provide troves of valuable information to audiences around the world. Malcolm Gladwell is a gifted author not only in his ability to provide insightful and enlightening information to his audience, but he does so with the gift of a natural storyteller. Each of his books is a collection of short stories and examples that he has gathered from people from every walk of life. He then ties all of them together, many of which have almost nothing in common, and blows the readers mind by leading them to the central defining characteristic of them all. When I finally put down a Malcolm Gladwell book (at this point I’ve now read 4 out of 5), I have to take a long moment to contemplate everything I just read. After which I come to the same conclusion each time: this information can change my life. Everyone who reads one of Gladwell’s books and takes time to apply it to their lives will be changed for the better.
I still remember one of his TED Talks that I saw a couple years ago. He spends almost the entire 17 minutes and 26 seconds talking about the debate between Ragu and Prego spaghetti sauce. Then, at the very end, he brings everything back to the beginning and ties it all together with the concepts of choices and happiness. Wait, what? The best part was by that point I had almost forgotten what he was really talking about and the conclusion seemed to burst from absolutely nowhere and bloom into a full blown tree, totally skipping the steps in between. In reality, Gladwell had done what he has always done; he led the audience on a trip while exploring several examples, allowing them to feel like they were drawing their own conclusions, and then comes the reveal that left everyone thinking for hours after they finish. Or at least it did for me. Quite simply, Gladwell is a magician with words and lessons.
The Prestige, directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, has a wonderful description of the stages of a magic trick that I think describe Gladwell’s writing as well. First, “The Pledge” is where the magician shows you something ordinary. Gladwell begins The Tipping Point by telling us about Hush Puppy shoes, crime rates in New York City, and introduces the idea of a tipping point, which all seem fairly unexciting. Second, “The Turn” is where the magician makes what is ordinary do something extraordinary. Gladwell takes these examples and definitions and reveals them in a variety of settings ranging from the ordinary to the barely believable, holding the audiences attention with entertainment and the anticipation that eventually he is going to bring it all back together and blow their minds. Finally, “The Prestige” is where the magician returns their display back to the ordinary, leaving the audience mystified and intrigued, not knowing how it was done. The Tipping Point, and the rest of Gladwell’s books for that matter, does just that, though it doesn’t just do it once. It does it again and again with each chapter.
So why should you read any of Gladwell’s work? Because in a world of too may answers and not enough questions Gladwell provides us with several questions that we all ask ourselves while showing us the world in a new light, then in a gentle and surprising way he shows us how to find the answers we so desperately seek.