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October 8, 2002

Essays from Malcolm Gladwell

A friend of mine recommended I take a look at Malcolm Gladwell's site. Malcolm is best known as the author of The Tipping Point, but he's also a staff writer at The New Yorker. The best part of Malcolm's site is an archive of all his New Yorker pieces. We've subscribed to The New Yorker for years, but there are lots of wonderful pieces that I missed.

My friend sent along the recommendation because he knew I liked John McPhee (another New Yorker staffer). McPhee is more of a marathon runner: his pieces cover lots of ground very throughly. Gladwell is more of a sprinter. His prose isn't as lyrical as McPhee's can be, but his insights are penetrating.

I'll mention a few favorites, but almost every essay in his archive is a gem.

"The Social Life of Paper"
"The piles [of paper on your desk] look like a mess, but they aren't. When a group at Apple Computer studied piling behavior several years ago, they found that even the most disorderly piles usually make perfect sense to the piler, and that office workers could hold forth in great detail about the precise history and meaning of their piles."
The Art of Failure: Why some people choke and others panic
"Human beings sometimes falter under pressure. Pilots crash and divers drown. Under the glare of competition, basketball players cannot find the basket and golfers cannot find the pin. When that happens, we say variously that people have "panicked" or, to use the sports colloquialism, "choked." But what do those words mean?"
The New-Boy Network: What do job interviews really tell us?
"Ambady's next step led to an even more remarkable conclusion. She compared those snap judgments of teacher effectiveness with evaluations made, after a full semester of classes, by students of the same teachers. The correlation between the two, she found, was astoundingly high. A person watching a two-second silent video clip of a teacher he has never met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who sits in the teacher's class for an entire semester. "