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Aug 06, 2022
OZY TV SPOTLIGHT
Malcolm Gladwell , a British-born Canadian and New York Times bestselling author of seven trailblazing books, has been writing provocative pieces that resonate with a global audience since the mid 1990s. Whether as a journalist, public speaker or podcast host, his work — which can range in subject from the intersection of culture and science to the joys of ketchup — continues to engage readers and shake up the intellectual world.
As a youth, Gladwell actually idolized conservative writers and even produced a pamphlet inspired by William F. Buckley. A typical day would see him researching academics in the local library of Elmira, the rural Ontario town where he spent much of his childhood. His politics would eventually change, and he grew into an incisive social commentator compelling millions of readers.
Gladwell credits his parents for instilling his sense of skepticism. “We know about what it means to be a disputatious West Indian,” as he jokingly says to Carlos, who also has roots in the Caribbean. Gladwell says his father was a renegade in free thinking and essentially went against the grain of how society told him he should live his life. In Gladwell’s eyes, his parents inspired him to think for himself. “It really does help to have parents who … make their own way in the world.” His mother was Jamaican born and his father was a white Englishman. From the start, their union was controversial, especially in the 1960s, when biracial marriage was still illegal in many places. His parents have heavily influenced his lifelong curiosity and iconoclasm.
Reasons for hope
In the summer of 2020, Gladwell was feeling just as cynical as the rest of us. A pandemic was running rampant and there was no end in sight. But amid this disheartening atmosphere, there came an uplifting moment when General Charles Q. Brown Jr. took over leadership as the 22nd chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, thereby becoming the first African American to hold this position. Gladwell feels that, despite social unrest (and a pandemic), the U.S. is still a place of spirit, determination and change.
This isn’t your typical audiobook
Gladwell's latest book, “The Bomber Mafia,” involves an innovative group of U.S. military officers who developed a new form of strategic bombing during World War II. The book’s first edition, which appeared in audio form, uses innovative technology, archival tapes and recorded interviews from historians and military experts to create a unique experience for the listener.
Higher education hypocrisy
Gladwell's “Revisionist History” podcast is still going strong after six years of ten-episode seasons. One recent episode looked at New Orleans' Dillard University, a prominent HBCU (historically Black college and university), and why it goes underrated despite its groundbreaking programs.
The candid one
Gladwell has zero problem with people who disagree with his viewpoints. He amusingly recalls one time in Houston, when a woman basically chased him down to tell him she had read all his books, and hated them. Perfectly fine. Gladwell, after all, feels that such open expression is part of the beauty of the United States.
In 2018, Gladwell and his friend and colleague Jacob Weisberg founded an audio production company called Pushkin Industries — a name inspired by the 19th century Russian writer Alexander Pushkin, who was revolutionary in his era. Pushkin Industries seeks to produce podcasts and audiobooks that question what is acceptable by society's standards.
Progress and change
Gladwell is a fan of Congresswoman Maxine Waters and her reformative ideas. He also respects how she launched her political endeavors while working in the garment district of Los Angeles and proceeded to build a storied career as a reformer unafraid to ask tough questions.
Gladwell’s work tends to explore the unanticipated results of social science research. One good example touching on this theme is his 2005 book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” which investigates the snap decisions we often make, especially regarding pop culture.
Gladwell’s full-length debut, “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” contends that ideas can spread like epidemics. Perhaps even more intriguing is his concept that ideas which attain immense relevance can be spread by a small, effective group of people. Of course, Gladwell himself has proven supremely effective at spreading ideas.
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