An Interview With Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell prefers to write about the mundane, but extremely influential, aspects of life rather than the exotic. Published in January, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking has cemented his position as a leading cultural commentator and is a best-seller across the world.

Born in 1963 in England, he grew up in Canada and graduated with a degree in history from the University of Toronto in 1984. He worked as a journalist at the Washington Post and then New York Times before joining The New Yorker magazine in 1996 and fine-tuning his fascination with objects and events that everyone takes for granted.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference captured the world’s attention in 2002 with his theory that curiously small happenings can have unforeseen effects. Blink examines the decision process - from the power of first impressions to unconscious prejudice - and has won him further admirers along the way.

 

What's your favorite book or author?

That’s a tough question. I'm a huge thriller and spy novel fan. So I guess I would have to say John Le Carre, although only the early Le Carre. I'm a purist: I start to wrinkle my nose when the Cold War ends. But I'm also a big Stephen Hunter fan, and I love Lee Child - although The Enemy was a bit of a disappointment. Stephen Hunter, I must say, gets over-looked. At this point, he's so much better than most of his contemporaries in the thriller genre but doesn't get the recognition.

Have you ever been tempted to collect books?

I don't really collect books. I tend to lose interest in them the minute I've read them, so most of the books I’ve read are left in airplanes and hotel rooms. I've decided that I want to collect Le Carre first editions, but that's about it. My most treasured book is written by my mother, Joyce Gladwell, and called Brown Face, Big Master. It’s a memoir she published 30 years ago. Several years ago, I had my friend Josh Liberson - who is a designer - design and print a new edition, and it is beautiful.

What fictional literary character would you like to have coffee with?

George Smiley, of course. We could have tea in some draughty sitting room of an old club near Oxford Circus in London. He would mumble and look embarrassed, and I would be too intimidated to say much. But that's too easy, isn't it?

I love Daniel Silva's hero, the art restorer. He sounds pretty cool. Jack Reacher, from the Lee Child novels, might be interesting, although I'd be scared witless. Philip Kerr, a few years back, wrote a series of noir crime novels that were set in Berlin around the war, and his hero - who was a police inspector - was the kind of person who could lead you on a tour of the avant garde underground of 1930's Berlin, and help you score some opium in a bombed-out basement off some dark alley. What's not to like about that?

What's your fondest memory that involves reading or being read to?

My father read Charles Dickens to us as children, and at the end of virtually every novel he would choke up and start to cry - and my father NEVER cried. It always made me love him all the more.


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