Gladwell has become an all-out international phenomenon — and has helped create a highly contagious hybrid genre of nonfiction, one that takes a nonthreatening and counterintuitive look at pop culture and the mysteries of the everyday. In the past year, several other books in the Gladwell vein have appeared. They include the best-selling "Freakonomics," a breezy collection of case studies by Steven Levitt, an economist at the University of Chicago, and the journalist Stephen Dubner (the pair write an occasional "Freakonomics" column for The Times Magazine); "The Wisdom of Crowds," a business book for thinking people in which the New Yorker writer James Surowiecki argues that groups are collectively smarter and more innovative than individuals; and "Everything Bad Is Good for You," Steven Johnson's case that pop culture is becoming increasingly sophisticated....Well, what's wrong with clearly explaining ideas to people who don't want to make the effort to read more scholarly things? But it's more than just vividly written explanation. He transforms social science material into a positive message:
For all their resonance and success, Gladwell's books have also been criticized, most often for demonstrating, or encouraging, lazy thinking. In a scathing review in The New Republic, the judge and author Richard Posner found "Blink" full of banalities and contradictions, "written like a book intended for people who do not read books."
"I'm by nature an optimist. I can't remember the last time I wrote a story which could be described as despairing," he said. "I don't believe in character. I believe in the effect of the immediate impact of environment and situation on people's behavior."...So, to paraphrase Posner: It's written like a book intended for people who read self-help books. Do we need to start being embarrassed that we like Gladwell so much?
Although pitched as descriptive, Gladwell's books are essentially prescriptive. Trust your instincts! You too may be (or can become) a connector, maven or salesman! Gladwell's dazzling arguments ultimately offer reassurance. Indeed, he seems a contemporary incarnation of a recurring figure in the American experience, one who comes with encouraging news: You can make a difference, you have the capacity to change. Gladwell may be the Dale Carnegie, or perhaps the Norman Vincent Peale, of the iPod generation. But where Carnegie in his 1936 book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," instructed readers how to understand their customers and flatter people into liking them, and Peale in his 1952 "Power of Positive Thinking" offered watered-down Christian palliatives, Gladwell offers optimism through demystification: to understand how things work is to have control over them.