This book is a collection of articles that Malcolm Gladwell wrote and published in the New Yorker magazine. They cover a broad range of topics including why Heinz is so dominant in Tomato Ketchup, the invention of the Pill, breast cancer screening and military intelligence, as well as introducing us to a wide range of characters.
Some of the more interesting articles include first a comparison of outstanding artists, contrasting the different types of genius which leads to some artists producing their best work early in their careers, for example Picasso, to “late bloomers” such as Cezanne who require a lot of practice to hone their skills, only finding success later in life. Another interesting contrast is Gladwell’s analysis of choking, where our internal training shuts down and we rely on only our external, thoughtful, actions; and panicking, where all our thinking stops. He does this by looking at John F Kennedy Junior’s plane crash (panic) and certain sporting collapses (choking).
Gladwell also includes two articles on Enron. First looking at their collapse, and exploring how sufficient data was made public to have foreseen their problems sooner, and so concluding that calling for more transparency is not always the answer. Secondly he looks at the “Talent Myth” and how Enron embraced talented people and gave them great freedom, as encouraged by their management consultants, while other more stable and effective firms and parts of the government have instead excelled through organisation and collaboration, and hence concluding that talent can be a “myth”.
One feature of many of these articles is that Gladwell uses two quite different stories to weave together his message. This keeps the articles more engaging as you don’t get stuck on one topic for too long, and also means if you find one story less interesting you may still enjoy the article because of the second.