A common tragedy

Avatar

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

Related Post Roulette

64 Responses

  1. Avatar Tod Kelly
    Ignored
    says:

    David Brooks, Billy Collins, Malcolm Gladwell…

    Has anyone ever sat down made a comprehensive list of writers whose public flogging has oddly and inexplicably been elevated to a tribal signaling device — especially for those that never/rarely read them? Kind of like a Bizarro-World Inconvenient Truth, only where you use the fact that their books that you haven’t read aren’t on your coffee table to do the signaling?

    Someone should make that list.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly
      Ignored
      says:

      I have read Gladwell – 1.5 of his books and some of his non-compiled essays, but that was a long time ago, so I can’t cite specifics. This article pretty accurately sums up my views, tho. So I’ll cosign it.

      If you don’t wanna read the article, this bit will nicely summarize things:

      Gladwell said, “If my books appear to a reader to be oversimplified, then you shouldn’t read them: You’re not the audience!”

      But consider what Gladwell’s quote means. He is saying that if you understand his topics well enough to see what is erroneous or missing, then you are not the reader he wants.
      Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Stillwater
        Ignored
        says:

        That’s just nitpicking, isn’t it?Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
          Ignored
          says:

          Specific mistakes don’t invalidate the work of the author or the book!Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Chris
          Ignored
          says:

          Ah. Well then, that explains the universal condemnation for Carl Sagan, Sarah Vowell, Michael Lewis, Ta-Nehisi Coates (for white, middle-class Atlantic readers only), Al Gore the best selling author, Erik Larson, John Berendt, and basically every non-fiction author not writing for an academic journal.

          Like that idiot Bill Bryson, writing a science book aimed at people who don’t already know all the stuff he’s writing about and travel books for people who haven’t been where he has. What a loser.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly
            Ignored
            says:

            Tod, you like Gladwell. It’s OK. Really. 🙂Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Tod Kelly
            Ignored
            says:

            I’ll be honest, with the exception of Sagan, I haven’t read a single book by any of those people, and barely recognize the names of some (I’ve read a bunch of Coates’ posts and a few longer articles, such as the reparations piece), but in general, science writers who publish books for large audiences are criticized for their mistakes, and try (in subsequent editions, in addenda, or what have you) to correct them. The criticism of Gladwell personally, and not just of his books, is usually that he makes a whole lot of important mistakes and doesn’t seem particularly interested in correcting them, perhaps in part because his overall arguments tend to be build on them.

            Now, I haven’t read anything by Gladwell in some time, nor have I felt compelled to by anything I’ve heard of him talking about, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the criticisms, but it doesn’t seem fair to demand that the same criticisms be applied to all authors within a broad (incredibly broad, as it encompasses everything real and at least somethings that aren’t) genre regardless of their sins.Report

          • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Tod Kelly
            Ignored
            says:

            Tod Kelly: Carl Sagan, Sarah Vowell, Michael Lewis, Ta-Nehisi Coates (for white, middle-class Atlantic readers only), Al Gore the best selling author, Erik Larson, John Berendt

            So, BSDI?

            Notice how many people think it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something based on reading Malcolm Gladwell. I don’t see a comparable, widespread mistakes by readers of any other author I can think of. And this is a case where if you go back and look at his book, he probably originally reported the correct idea, but somehow his readers still miss the details. Some of that might just be that he has a lot of careless readers, but I think some of the blame falls on him for being the type of writer who attracts and caters to careless readers.Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Tod Kelly
            Ignored
            says:

            It is entirely possible to read a book aimed at a popular audience, in a field you know very well, and conclude that while you did not learn anything you didn’t already know, the book was a good popularization of the topic and you would recommend it to your non-specialist friends. Bill Bryson, being a good writer, writes entertaining books. Unfortunately, however, he is also a lousy researcher, so his books are only entertaining if you don’t actually know much about the topic. If you do, the tendency is to be diverted by all the errors. Gladwell is much the same way. I enjoy Bryson’s writing more, but that is a matter of taste.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Richard Hershberger
              Ignored
              says:

              It’s one thing if a particle physicist reads The God Particle and complains that Lederman made some errors in his explanation of symmetry breaking. It’s another if lay people who are broadly interested in physics are reading The God Particle and complaining, “Man, his explanation of the Standard Model is, if not incorrect, at least largely misleading.”

              (This is not to impugn Lederman or that book, which I loved when I read it in high school. I’m just using it as an example, because it sprang to mind, and I think “Broken Symmetry” would be a good album title.)Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Chris
                Ignored
                says:

                If he’s not making errors that the entire profession recognizes and is calling out as errors, then instead what he is doing, or what he is, is a physicist with unorthodox views on X. Layreaders can read what he says and say, look, most physicists disagree with you on this, so I’m going to choose to be skeptical of you and trust them. But I don’t think they should flat-out say he’s wrong or being misleading unless there is a lot of support for that view from within the profession. All things being equal, laypeople should see a book by a professional physicist in which he advances an unorthodox view as an opportunity to just become more aware of diversity of views in the profession. No?Report

      • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Stillwater
        Ignored
        says:

        But consider what Gladwell’s quote means. He is saying that if you understand his topics well enough to see what is erroneous or missing, then you are not the reader he wants.

        I know nothing about Gladwell, but I will note that his quote doesn’t necessarily mean that. (Perhaps it does for him).

        Writing about technical and scientific matters to a non-expert audience requires simplification. At times, this simplification might be quite incorrect, but better at conveying the gist of the concept than a more accurate simplification would be.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Morat20
          Ignored
          says:

          If a simplification is quite incorrect ur doin it wrong. Simplifications mean leaving out some connective tissue and black boxing certain processes. Sometimes it also involves saying certain things are approximations and/or only valid in certain cases.

          But the simplification should never be wrong. That leads to the war on science.Report

          • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Kolohe
            Ignored
            says:

            Eh, it depends on what you’re talking about, and how simple you’re making it. In short, it depends on the context and your audience.

            I mean, take coding. “I write programs. They tell computers what to do” is a simple, graspable explanation.

            It’s also wrong. I write exclusively compiled code. What I write doesn’t tell a computer what to do. What I write is basically instructions for another program, which reads what I wrote and turns it into stuff that tells a computer what to do.

            Nothing I write tells a computer to do anything. It’s all interpreted. But honestly, most audiences give exactly zero craps for the longer explanation, and frankly the short one — while incredibly inaccurate in terms of what I actually DO — happily conveys the end result.

            Which is I type stuff, and then the computer does stuff.

            I wouldn’t tell that to a bunch of coders, or pretend C++ or Python code is machine language to a bunch of CS students. But that’s how I’d describe it to my mom.Report

            • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Morat20
              Ignored
              says:

              The ostensible purpose of writing tech stuff for a lay audience is captured by the third and fourth paragraphs you wrote. If you just provided the second paragraph for that purpose ur doin it wrong. (Your mom loves you anyway, so ur doin it rite in that respect. But calling your mom is not the same thing as writing the copy for a Nova program or Discovery channel special)Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Kolohe
                Ignored
                says:

                But that goes to audience. I give different explanations to different audiences, because they have different needs.

                I’m just saying that oversimplification can contain things that aren’t exactly right. Not from an intent to deceive, but from an attempt to enlighten. The stuff that’s wrong is generally…unimportant bits. Like short-handing the way a camera works, because you’re not there to lecture on light refraction but to explain how to take a photo.Report

              • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Morat20
                Ignored
                says:

                I think I see where you’re going, @morat20 . This might seem strange and trite, but simplification was the key to one of my proudest success in social etiquette:

                I was introduced to a couple at a dinner. One of them asked me what my dissertation topic was. I gave him the 20 second version. His boyfriend said that was the shortest explanation for a dissertation topic he had ever heard anyone give and that he had been afraid I’d go off on one of those half-hour explanations that most graduate students do when asked about their research.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kolohe
                Ignored
                says:

                It depends what the subject is. If you’re trying to explain, say, how machine learning makes very difficult problems tractable, that distinction is just an unwelcome distraction.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Morat20
              Ignored
              says:

              Machine code? Hell, either you write microcode or you’re just delegating work to the people who do.Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Morat20
              Ignored
              says:

              But you do tell the computer what to do. Starting with “compile this code.”Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Tod Kelly
      Ignored
      says:

      Tod Kelly: oddly and inexplicably been elevated to a tribal signaling device

      It’s neither odd nor inexplicable. Gladwell is a *really* good storyteller. He is immensely talented, and if you are a somewhat less successful writer [cough], it’s not at all odd to be a bit jealous. And when you sit down and discover that he’s not exactly doing that much to elevate and inform the thinking of his readers, it’s very easy for that jealousy to become resentment. Less successful people can always find a way to look down on success, and this is the way I’ve found for myself.

      Regarding the list of authors itself, I imagine it wouldn’t be any one list. I have friends who try to bond over disliking Deepak Chopra, and I can’t really get behind it because as much as I think he is a kook, he just doesn’t affect me that much. I’m not at risk of reading an interview with Deepak Chopra as I am at risk of reading an interview with Malcolm Gladwell.

      So, the lists will vary. But Malcolm Gladwell will definitely appear on a lot of them.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Vikram Bath
        Ignored
        says:

        I think it’s more than that, though. Gladwell is one of those people who has been chosen — I would argue somewhat randomly, you might beg to differ — to be a kind of talisman of superiority, especially online and on social media.

        Take the blurb thing, for example.

        The gist of the whole Holson article — or if not that article, then certainly all of the social media comments I’ve seen about it since it was published — is that Galdwell is somehow lesser for doing so many blurbs. As a bibliophile, I find this observation bizarre to the point where I find myself wondering, “do these people actually read books anymore?” Doing blurbs by the pound (or ton) is a pretty universal thing done by almost all best-selling authors. I don’t think I have a single hardcover literary novel from before Wolf Hall that has a Hillary Mantel blurb on its cover; I’m not sure I own many since Wolf Hall that doesn’t. Pretty much every travel writing book in my library has a Paul Theroux blurb. I’m pretty sure that the only horror novels published between 1978 and 1990 that didn’t have a blurb by Stephen King were the ones actually written by Stephen King. It’s a fairly ubiquitous industry thang. And if you were to decide that the obvious cynical ‘complimentary marketing’ nature of blurbs was enough to make you not take stock in them, I’d understand. (I generally don’t.)

        But it doesn’t matter that everyone else does it. It only matters that Malcolm writes lots of blurbs, and that’s enough to make us feel superior because we don’t. (Even though no one is asking us to.)

        The essay Still linked to — which I have had shown me a bunch over the years — is the same thing. That an author of popular non-fiction books is not writing for an audience of experts (on whatever topic their book is on) is an observation that should likely merit a, “well, no s**t” response about almost any author. Because that’s pretty much the actual definition of popular nonfiction. No one says of Bill Bryson or Michael Green, “I don’t know why they bothered — experts in science and economics know all of this stuff already.” But not Malcolm. We love realizing that Malcolm writes things for ordinary people and not experts, because for some reason that makes us feel happily superior to him as part of that online/social media tribe that signals disdain for Gladwell its primary social connecter (to ironically use a Gladwellian term).

        To use your own counter example as a comparison point, I suspect a lot of people out there don’t respect/believe the stuff Chopra writes. But the last time I remember him coming up in a conversation before today was probably back in the 1990s. Brooks and Gladwell are different. You can’t swing a cat online without it hitting someone who’s writing about how much smarter they are than one or both of those guys.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Tod Kelly
          Ignored
          says:

          Just the other day I was reading about how people who like literary fiction don’t actually like it, they just like to say they do to feel and appear superior. Now, as literary fiction is a “genre” I generally detest, you might think I’d be sympathetic to that claim, but I’m wary of dismissing people’s tastes and opinions as mere “signaling,” if for no other reasons than because I’m not a mind reader and there are many possible reasons why people would think what I consider mostly horribly overcooked prose is actually good.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
            Ignored
            says:

            Well, the theory is also useless as it’s normally used. Lay-Person’s Signalling Theory is subjectively oriented: the subject views his/her own beliefs as obviously correct and accounts for other people’s (obviously) incorrect/irrational disagreement as expressions of signalling. And because of that it’s just as plausible to apply the theory the other way: a person who finds Gladwell’s essays absurd can account for other people’s positive views as expressing irrational signalling.

            Now what the hell do we do?

            Oh yeah. We give reasons for our views rather than try to explain (away) someone else’s.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Stillwater
              Ignored
              says:

              Yeah, that’s what I was trying to express. Sure, I’d love to dismiss people who like that dreck called “literary fiction;” at least then I wouldn’t have to actually think about why they like it and whether they might see something in it that I don’t, but I’d be cheating. And besides, a fan of literary fiction — Tod, say — could easily turn it around and say that my distaste for the “genre” is just signaling and be on equally (un)firm ground.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Chris
                Ignored
                says:

                What dreck are you talking about? Surely not writers like Faulkner, Melville, Fitzgerald, Hawthorne, and Wharton. And if you mean Barth, Chabon, Roth, McCarthy, Ishiguro, Ondaatje, and that crowd, you’re dismissing a lot of first-rate books.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                @mike-schilling
                It’s more the Alice Sebolds, Jay McInterneys, Hillary Mantels. That literary best seller, forgoten next year type.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Aaron David
                Ignored
                says:

                I know Bright Lights, Big City (from the film, never read it.) And I’ve heard of Wolf Hall, probably from the TV show. Ms. Sebold does not ring a bell.

                Anyway, if only 90% of literary fiction is crud, it’s no worse than anything else.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                Ah, I knew I was leaving someone out: E.L. Doctorow. Some of his stuff is unreadable, but Ragtime is terrific.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                Even Ragtime is horribly written, but the stories are so interesting that you can get caught up in them and forget that they’re being told to you by someone who writes like a 5-year old talks, only more so.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Chris
                Ignored
                says:

                I think the voice he uses in Ragtime works well; the contrast between its simple, innocent naiveté and the violence and horror of what several of the stories he tells turn into is part of what makes the book so good.

                To me “someone who writes like a 5-year old talks, only more so” is Dan Brown, provided of course that it’s a 5-year-old Gungan.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                Alice Sebold is famous for Lovely Bones, I think there was a movie, not sure.

                I was just looking at a list of all NYtimes bestsellers, which is not a true test of literary merrit, but a good stand in for was was considered LITERATURE at any given time. There are a lot of forgoten authors in there…Report

              • Avatar krogerfoot in reply to Aaron David
                Ignored
                says:

                Hillary Mantels

                Oh dear. De gustibus non disputandum est and all (Lord knows I wouldn’t dream of disputing anyone’s gustibus), but implying Hilary Mantel is overrated is like me saying I don’t merely dislike the 80s Dallas Cowboys, but actually think they weren’t that good at football.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David in reply to krogerfoot
                Ignored
                says:

                I am not implying it, I am saying it. She is way overrated. And will be forgoten. Like most authors.

                Don’t get me wrong, I love reading, and have spent most of my life around books, a good percentage of it professionally. I have seen this with more than a few authors, John P. Marquand being one, Donna Tartt looked to go that way with her second book, flop that it was. Brett Easton Ellis is another like that Publishers want a hot new thing, just as much as record lables do, just as much as movie studios. They find one, pump it up, and walk away as soon as it faulters a bit. /shrug

                Some people love Mantel. I found it unintellegible.

                By the way, I think the Cowboys did better in the ’90’s (3 superbowl wins)

                ETA: Marquand is long before my time, just put him in for reference.Report

              • Avatar krogerfoot in reply to Aaron David
                Ignored
                says:

                I am not implying it, I am saying it. She is way overrated. And will be forgoten. Like most authors.

                Well, you have the courage of your convictions, and your comment about past bestseller lists is very perceptive. I agree with you on Ellis and Tartt, but I think Mantel has achieved something remarkable with these last two books.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to krogerfoot
                Ignored
                says:

                Lord knows I wouldn’t dream of disputing anyone’s gustibus

                ‘Tis the season, for a Gustibus for the rest of us.

                I gotta lotta problems with you people!Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph
                Ignored
                says:

                Gustibus, it’s Festivus for art critics.

                And now for the feets of angst!Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris
                Ignored
                says:

                Feets, don’t fail me now.Report

              • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                Re: Ishiguro:

                I’ve read two of his books and wasn’t impressed. I might have liked Remains of the Day better than I did, but I read it only after I saw the movie, and in my opinion, the movie was better. Or….maybe I wanted the book to be more like the movie and was disappointed when it wasn’t.

                The other book was Never Let Me Go. I’m not sure why I disliked it except to say it didn’t appeal to me. In a weird way the plot developments, although a surprise, were actually predictable.

                Still, I wouldn’t call his work “dreck” or overwrought, just something I don’t like.Report

            • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Stillwater
              Ignored
              says:

              Stillwater: Lay-Person’s Signalling Theory is subjectively oriented

              I think you’re right, but I would add that in “real” signaling, the signal you are sending needs to be relatively difficult for non-group members to imitate. For example, an owner of a peach used car could take a buyer on a flawless, 200-mile test drive, which might be impossible for the lemon owners to be able to do.

              That doesn’t apply here. You can love and cherish every Malcolm Gladwell book and still pretty easily say that you don’t. As far as signals go, it’s a pretty easy one to fake. I think what Tod meant in this case was tribal affiliation. Those of us who dislike Gladwell’s writing can bond over our dislike and recognize each other as right-thinking people. I’m not sure how the word “signal” got attached to it. Maybe it was mentioned in a Gladwell book somewhere?Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Vikram Bath
                Ignored
                says:

                @vikram-bath

                Exactly. This is why 9 times out of 10, when I read a non-expert talk about signalling I end up shouting at the screen “Signalling does not work they way”Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to Vikram Bath
                Ignored
                says:

                I am going to pushback against the idea that there is “real” signalling and then a bunch of people making stuff up. If you want to make a distinction fine. Call the former Spencerian signalling and create the category of Hansonian signalling to handle the other stuff. The point remains, that Hansonian signalling theory has value and can help us to understand a lot the phenomena that we encounter in the real world.

                You can tell a story about higher education that ignores signalling, but that story is incomplete. Does that mean that all higher education is purely about signalling? No, but it is a significant part of the story.

                This back and forth between Noah Smith and Robin Hanson, Bryan Caplan also gets involved, gives a pretty good idea of what I mean: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2015/05/what-is-signaling.htmlReport

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to j r
                Ignored
                says:

                Education is costly signalling. Not purely, as you say, but the “not signalling because it’s not costly” criticism clearly doesn’t apply here.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to j r
                Ignored
                says:

                j r,

                Yeah, I tend to agree with this. There are real properties in the world which a theory of signalling can capture and help explain. In its narrowest definitional sense signalling isn’t a theory really, just an observation which is true in certain states of affairs, higher ed being only one example where invoking that explanatory property makes perfect sense. For example, without invoking the concept of a signal, the role a diploma plays in hiring begins to make no sense. (Ie., the diploma itself is a signal of eg. a certain skill set which a potential employer is functionally incapable of perceiving within a limited time frame.)

                The problem I see with Hanson’s definition of a signal (the types he’s interested in, anyway) based on the mustache example is that a) he reduces the motivation of wearing a mustache to merely sending a message (which is question-begging, right off the bat, you think about it*) to b) the exclusion of any non-messaging motivation for the action while c) attributing a whole nexus of beliefs to the wearer which he (or any other person) have no way of knowing are true or not (except circularly, again).

                * If a theory of signalling begins with the assumption that action A is undertaken merely to send a message, then the resulting analysis will be useful only if A is in fact an act of signalling. So his analysis strikes me as circular, but at a pretty insidious level: it attributes motivations and purposes to a person which an observer simply cannot know. For example, someone wearing a dude-bro stash might have done so because they thought it looked cool on others and without any conscious understanding or recognition of the (dubious) group dynamics Hanson invokes to account for that choice.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Vikram Bath
                Ignored
                says:

                I think you’re right, but I would add that in “real” signaling, the signal you are sending needs to be relatively difficult for non-group members to imitate.

                Difficult or costly. Tribal signalling is costly, because it damages your reputation with the other tribe(s). Unless you don’t care about the other tribes, in which case you probably are a member of the tribe to which you’re signalling affiliation.

                Edit: Also, isn’t it sufficient if people just don’t care enough to imitate signals? I could probably signal leftism passably—I just don’t care about impressing leftists.Report

              • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Brandon Berg
                Ignored
                says:

                Brandon Berg,

                Signals are usually considered distinct from cheap talk. I think my saying “I don’t like Malcolm Gladwell’s writing” definitely falls in the “cheap talk” category. I could easily tomorrow write a followup post about how I was only pretending in this post to flush out all the Gladwell-haters and expose how uniformly unfair they all are.

                And I could keep switching back day after day until Tod fires me.

                Let me quote that link @j-r posted:

                More generally I call a message “signaling” if it has these features:

                1. It is not sent mainly via the literal meanings of words said.
                2. It is not easily or soon verifiable.
                3. It is mainly about the senders’ personal features, perhaps via association with groups.
                4. It is about sender “quality” dimensions where more is better, so senders want others to believe quality is as high as possible, while others want to assess more accurately. Such qualities are not just unitary, but can include degrees of loyalty to particular allies.

                Cheap talk cannot send a message like this; one cannot just say such a thing, one must show it.

                I think most of what I’ve said thus far only qualfies as cheap talk.Report

        • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Tod Kelly
          Ignored
          says:

          I have zero problem with him doing blurbs. I hope he’s at least reading the books and somewhat sincere in his enthusiasm for each of them, and I have no reason to think he’s not.

          Regarding why Gladwell is criticized over and above other nonfiction writers, i think it’s first worth noting that he’s probably sold a lot more than everyone else mentioned here combined. So, it does make sense for him to receive both more praise and criticism than Michael Green, and I think that’s actually the case.

          But I make a further claim that he’s more deserving of criticism. I don’t have direct evidence, but I think if we were to survey Gladwell readers on key points about whatever they’ve read about and Michael Green readers on key points about what they’ve read about, the Michael Green readers will have measurably fewer misperceptions. This is a testable claim, and I could be wrong, but based on the number of people I see online citing Gladwell erroneously, I don’t think I’m wrong.Report

  2. Avatar Stillwater
    Ignored
    says:

    I think he meant The Tragedy of Being Common, which is what he’s trying so hard to rise above.Report

  3. Avatar Mike Schilling
    Ignored
    says:

    “The more blurbs you give, the lower the value of the blurb. It’s the tragedy of the commons.”

    Yeah, that’s ridiculous. Unless he means that

    Your name on a book has only so much value. E.g. if you recommend two or three books a year, people who value your opinion will seek them out. But if you’re giving a blurb every time someone asks you to, it becomes meaningless; people get immune to seeing one. That is, there’s a limited supply of useful blurbs.

    On the other hand, the cost of giving a blurb is pretty much nothing. In fact, saying “No” can be a lot harder than throwing together a few sentences of praise. So the result is that the supply of useful blurbs gets exceeded on a first-come first-served basis (overgrazed, if you will), rather than being allotted to the uses where they’d have the most value.

    Because that’s pretty much the tragedy of the commons.Report

  4. Avatar Kazzy
    Ignored
    says:

    I’ve grown weary of Malcolm mainly because I reach about the 1/3 point of his book and just think, “Jeez… I get it man!” He’s a smart dude and excellent writer. But he tends to oversell mainly because he seems REALLY excited about what he has to say and is a storyteller at heart. I tend to put his theories in the “Explains some things some of the time” bin. I don’t get hatin’ on him.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Kazzy
      Ignored
      says:

      I’ve grown weary of Malcolm mainly because I reach about the 1/3 point of his book and just think, “Jeez… I get it man!”

      This is my problem with Gladwell and with a whole slice of the non-fiction book market. There are a lot of books that are basically expanded magazine articles and where the expansion does not bring much value beyond the original article.

      It is actually quite an ingenious strategy. The author lays out a claim in the first chapter or so and then fills up pages with examples that support the claim. It gives the appearance of rigor and robustness. And more importantly, it allows the reader to “discover” the thesis that was just explained in a bunch different situations, which reinforces in the reader the sense that he or she gets it.Report

  5. Avatar Will H.
    Ignored
    says:

    What this is? It’s blurbshaming.

    Many blurbs will not be inspired to reach their full potential because of such acts.Report

  6. Avatar krogerfoot
    Ignored
    says:

    I like Malcolm Gladwell’s articles, but I’ve never read any of his full-length books. Even if I couldn’t stand him, I’d like to think I’d be willing to grant that the quote above was one of them way-homers, where on the way out of the interview he suddenly realized he blurted “tragedy of the commons” when he meant “diminishing returns” and knew he’d have to hear about it for the rest of his life.Report

  7. Avatar Fannie
    Ignored
    says:

    Good post, i certainly appreciate this site, keep on itReport

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *