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Malcolm Gladwell | Summary and Reviews of his Best Books, his Bio and Quotes

An English writer-speaker and journalist living in the United States, Malcolm Gladwell is known for having written several bestsellers that have sold millions of copies worldwide. Each book by Malcolm Gladwell is inspired by scientific concepts in psychology and sociology that the writer is committed to simplifying in order to make them accessible to a wide audience. In this article, you will learn more about the life of this famous author, storyteller, and popularizer. You will also discover a summary of Malcolm Gladwell’s three iconic books and his best quotes!

Malcolm Gladwell, a Life of Research and Writing

Malcolm Gladwell
Photography by N. Sputnik

Malcolm Gladwell’s Array of Influences

Malcolm Gladwell was born in 1963 in Foreham, Hampshire, England. He is the oldest of two boys in the family.

At the age of six, the Gladwell family emigrated to Canada. They moved to Elmira, Ontario. Little Malcolm therefore grew up in Canada and not in England. His father, Graham Gladwell was an engineer and then became a professor of mathematics at the university. He published numerous books. His mother, Joyce Gladwell, is of Jamaican descent and is a psychotherapist. She also wrote a book.

During his schooling, young Malcolm meets two teachers who would have a major influence on him: Jim de Bock, who would encourage him to follow his ideas rather than to worry what the world thinks; then Bill Exley who would teach him the importance of precision.

In middle and high school, Malcolm becomes passionate about journalism. Moreover, he would be recognized as one of top ten speakers of the school and would distinguish himself in athletics where he would become the champion of the 1,500 meters race.

From Journalist to Writer-Speaker

Malcolm Gladwell studied history at the University of Toronto, where he graduated in 1984. He then became a journalist:

  • First in the conservative political magazine The American Spectator, in Indiana.
  • In 1987, he joined the Washington Post as a science journalist in the economic and scientific fields, then he became chief correspondent of the New York office.
  • In 1996, he joined the editorial staff of The New Yorker magazine.

Malcolm Gladwell now lives in New York, in the United States. He is the author of several books inspired by university work in psychology and sociology, aimed at the general public. His works are recommended in several business schools. They have been sold by the millions worldwide. In 2005, Time named Malcolm Gladwell one of the 100 most influential people on the planet. His success allows him today to give conferences, in particular for prestigious companies like Google or Microsoft.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Books: A Series of Bestsellers!

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of five successful books:

  •  “The tipping point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” (2000).
  •  “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” (2005).
  • What the Dog Saw: and other adventures” (2009).
  • “All Winners! Outliers: The Story of Success(2008).
  • David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants” (2013).

2- Three Summaries of Malcolm Gladwell’s Books

“Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of Success

In “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell defines what success means to him. He analyzes the reasons for a person’s success, success which is not only due, according to him, to the talents of the individual but also to a set of external factors, independent of the person in question.

From the introduction, Malcolm Gladwell plunges us into the heart of the matter through a beautiful story, that of the village of Roseto in Pennsylvania. The whole book is constructed in this way: through a multitude of real-life stories, Malcolm Gladwell deciphers experiences of success in order to explain to us where they come from and how they can come about.

Criterion Number 1: Opportunity

The first part of the book focuses on opportunity. In other words, what makes a success exist? Well, according to Malcolm Gladwell, it is all about the right time.

The author explains that successful people do not start from nothing. Their lifestyle or their special talents are not enough to explain their success. It is necessary to know where they come from. The date of birth, for example, is a determining factor. In sports, children born at the start of the year are more often selected: more mature than other children (born in the second half of the year), they seem better. Later, because of their selection, they benefit from better training and over time, they then truly become better. This difference persists over time. This is obvious in education, where this initial disadvantage will determine their access to university studies.

Malcolm Gladwell also explains to us that even if innate talent exists, it is not enough. The work is necessary. He cites various studies which have established that ten thousand hours of training are necessary to reach the level of mastery associated with real expertise, whatever the field. Opportunities are also essential. The story of Bill Joy, a computer scientist, is a case in point. He was able to practice long hours of programming. He was able to do so because a certain number of conditions were met. Malcolm Gladwell also cites us the examples of the Beatles who were able to play on stage many times in Hamburg, and Bill Gates who was able to benefit from extra time in his fourth year to practice programming.

Intelligence and IQ

Finally, Malcolm Gladwell addresses intelligence and IQ. He explains that being a genius is not sufficient to succeed. Practical intelligence is essential. It is not enough to be intelligent; you have to know how to use your intelligence. For this, family origin is crucial.

Criterion Number 2: Legacy

In the second part of the book, Malcolm Gladwell focuses on legacy, that is to say, the traditions and attitudes transmitted by our ancestors. The first chapter takes us to the Appalachian region, in a small town where two founding families clashed for decades, over questions of honor. This culture of honor is still the reason behind current violence today. It is characterized by different elements: they take place in very low fertility areas, are the result of combative individuals and the quarrels are necessarily public. Malcolm Gladwell demonstrates the power of cultural legacy through this example of the culture of honor. These legacies are deeply rooted and remain intact even when the conditions for their creation (economic, social, demographic, etc.) have disappeared.

Malcolm Gladwell also takes the example of a plane crash to explain cultural differences and their behavioral implications. He notes the existence of six linguistic levels of mitigation confronting a pilot: command; statement of obligation, suggestion, query, preference, and hint. The way of communicating varies according to the relationship to authority. Thus, the pilot will give orders by addressing his co-pilot while the latter prefers to hint in order to speak to his superior. Hofstede’s dimensions should also be taken into account: the individualism/ collectivism scale, the avoidance of uncertainty and the hierarchical distance index.

The following chapter allows Malcolm Gladwell to demonstrate that the aptitudes of Asian populations for mathematics are linked, in part, to linguistics. This apparently facilitates the learning of numbers and calculation. The calculation system being logical, Asian children learn to count faster than American children. Asians therefore have an advantage in mathematics.

Review of “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell uncovers the secrets of success through fascinating stories. Thanks to his ability as a storyteller, as well as through documented research on the subject, Malcolm Gladwell gives an in-depth analysis of the factors of success, offering us, with this book, an essay rather than a self-help book. In fact, the author gives us no method to succeed ourselves but helps us focus consideration on the idea that, contrary to what we tend to imagine, “a prodigy is not at all miraculous”. Finally, it should be noted that the author only defines a person’s success by results (academically, athletically, professionally, etc.) and the completion of achievements.

Strong points:

  • An original and brilliant writing scheme that combines life stories, informative content, and analysis: impossible to get bored while reading this book.
  • The patchwork of little stories that transport us, with suspense and extraordinary characters, from one universe to another, all of which ultimately lead us to the driving ideas of the book.
  • The author’s thorough and very well- documented research.

Weak point:

  • Those who hope for a method or advice that can be applied for “success” will not find it here since it is more of a study on the logic of success (as seen by the author).

My rating : Malcolm Gladwell Malcolm Gladwell Malcolm GladwellMalcolm GladwellMalcolm GladwellMalcolm GladwellMalcolm GladwellMalcolm GladwellMalcolm Gladwell

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“David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath Malcolm Gladwell

This book by Malcolm Gladwell aims to show us that our weak points can, in fact, prove to be our greatest assets and that it is therefore possible to come out victorious in a losing battle.

With “David and Goliath”, Malcolm Gladwell becomes once again a storyteller. From the very introduction, we are reminded of the story of David and Goliath. Goliath was an infantryman, tall and strong with heavy armor. David, meanwhile, was a young, without armor, fast and agile shepherd.

David chooses not to engage in hand-to-hand combat with Goliath but rather to target his only weak point that is unprotected by armor: his forehead. Goliath, surprised by this strategy and slowed down by his size and all his equipment; has no time to react or to fight back. He falls from the blow of a stone perfectly launched by his opponent at the vulnerable spot. Conclusion: in this duel, the large size of Goliath was not a strength as we would generally think but was, on the contrary, his greatest weakness.

And this is what Malcolm Gladwell wants to show us, through multiple stories, throughout this book: strength is not where we believe it to be! The strong are not as strong as you might think and the weak can be far more powerful than you would have imagined. Thus, chapter after chapter, Malcolm Gladwell draws on the journey of different people to show us that we can learn to fight giants.

The Advantages of Disadvantages and Vice Versa

In this first part, Malcolm Gladwell explores advantages and disadvantages in order to demonstrate that they are not necessarily such. Through the story of a coach of a small basketball team and that of Lawrence of Arabia, he explains that an original strategy led to victory in both cases. The basketball team was able to get to the national championship by focusing on their defense, since they did not have that good of an offense. The advantage of the Turks backfired on them: outnumbering Lawrence of Arabia, they thought they had an easy victory, but Lawrence was able to demonstrate intelligence.

The same is true in education. Money and “good schools” do not systematically lead to success and may even, on the contrary, prove to be disadvantages. A young high school girl, first in her class, gets into a prestigious university. However, she is no longer first in class, becomes discouraged and ultimately gives up her studies.

The Concept of Desirable Difficulty

Malcolm Gladwell devotes the second part of his book to the concept of desirable difficulty. The author takes the example of a dyslexic person; who through hard work has been able to become a reputable lawyer. As a young child, he developed a great ability to listen; thanks to the stories that his mother read to him to make up for his own reading difficulties. He was not one of the top students but was able to finish high school and get a job. He later enrolled in law school. Unlike most people who learn by capitalization, he learned by compensation. He had no choice; he had to make up for what he lacked. Malcolm Gladwell demonstrates, with this example and others, that necessity leads to surpassing oneself.

There are Limits to Power

The third and last part of “David and Goliath” deals with the limits of power. The author begins by explaining to us the principle of legitimacy: if we want others to behave correctly, we must ourselves be exemplary. Legitimacy is based on three conditions, according to Malcolm Gladwell: people asked to obey must think that they have a voice and that they will be heard, the rules must be fixed, fairness must be applied. Without legitimacy, power leads to insubordination.

Review of “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell succeeds once again in providing an analysis of strength and weakness while captivating us thanks to his storytelling ability. He does not provide a turnkey method but leads us to reflect on what we believe to be strengths and weaknesses and to question them. Through numerous stories, based on scientific studies, Malcolm Gladwell delivers us a positive message while encouraging us to question our beliefs.

In “David and Goliath“, you will not find a method of personal development per se. However, Malcolm Gladwell involves the reader in broad reflection on the subject, supported by studies and analysis by the author. And by giving you the keys to those who have made their weaknesses strengths or who have maximized their potential; “David and Goliath” is a book that could really transform your life!

Strong points:

  • The style of the author which combines a journalistic and informative style with his storytelling ability.
  • Contrarian and positive comments that go against popular belief
  • The encouraging message to live better and transform our difficulties into assets, or for those who, conversely, struggle to succeed despite their many assets.

Weak points:

  • Certain remarks seemingly contradict each other.
  • Controversial ideas, conclusions that can seem hasty at times.

My rating : Malcolm Gladwell Malcolm Gladwell Malcolm GladwellMalcolm GladwellMalcolm GladwellMalcolm GladwellMalcolm GladwellMalcolm GladwellMalcolm Gladwell

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“The Tipping Point”, book by Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell

In this book by Malcolm Gladwell, the author focuses on the tipping point, i.e., the moment when everything changes.

The author’s “trademark” is still there: a multitude of stories to illustrate his theories and advance his ideas. Thus, by deciphering several outstanding successes, Malcolm Gladwell analyzes their origins and shows us why these successes have become so. For this, he compares them to an epidemic. According to him, the process is the same and is broken down into three main principles; the contagion, the extent of the repercussions and the suddenness of the changes.

Malcolm Gladwell begins with the example of the syphilis epidemic that took place in Baltimore in the 1990s. He explains that it was minor changes that turned the disease into an epidemic. The disease is made up of three elements; the people who transmit infectious agents, the infectious agents themselves and the environment in which they exist. Malcolm Gladwell transposes these three elements to the case of social epidemics and designates them as: the law of the few; the stickiness factor, the power of context.

The Law of the Few

Malcolm Gladwell calls people who stand out for their sociability, their network, their energy “critical people”. They are triggers: these people discover a piece of information, a product and spread the news. To better understand the functioning of these critical people, Malcolm Gladwell recalls in particular the principle of six degrees of separation which explains why we say that “the world is small”: in other words, how an idea, a trend or piece of information manages to spread in an entire population with only six intermediaries.

The author distinguishes three types of people:

  • Connectors

These people have three characteristics:

    • They have a very important network of relationships because they are extremely social.
    • They are easy to contact because they are linked to different worlds.
    • Their network is very diverse and comes from the strength of so-called “weak” bonds (roughly acquaintances, not real friends).
  • Mavens

They are information specialists. They are found in all social strata. These are people who know more than the majority of the population and easily share their information. Their advice is highly followed.

  • Salesmen

The salesman, on the other hand, knows how to be persuasive and overcome any objections from potential customers. They master verbal as well as non-verbal language. They are transmitters.

The Stickiness Factor

This principle is very important, according to Malcolm Gladwell. This is what makes the message contagious and unforgettable. The presentation and organization of the message are as important as its content. Changing a tiny piece of the message can increase its reach dramatically. The story of the TV program “Sesame Street” is a prime example. Concentrating only on the substance is a mistake; the form is of paramount importance.

The Power of Context

Context also has a role to play in an epidemic: the circumstances, the conditions and the particularities of its environment are important. To explain this concept, Malcolm Gladwell takes the example of crime in New York: very high in the 1980s, it dropped drastically in the 1990s. In this double chapter, Malcolm Gladwell expands his remarks by explaining to us what the Broken Windows Theory and the Rule of 150 are.

Case Studies

Malcolm Gladwell ends his presentation with two case studies to put into practice the theories laid out throughout his book: a brand of sneakers that becomes known worldwide overnight and smoking.

Review of “Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell

Once again, Malcolm Gladwell gives us his theories rather than a method to apply. A multitude of concepts are developed to make us understand this tipping point phenomenon which can be triggered, according to the author, by small details thoroughly studied. The author’s analysis, enhanced with numerous examples (unfortunately, slightly outdated, and contradictory for some), gets us to reflect on different subjects, but mainly on communication and marketing strategies that can multiply results. All this is done in the style of Malcolm Gladwell, that is to say pleasantly toned down with lots of anecdotes and actual facts against the backdrop of scientific research!

Strong points:

  • The inspirational message: we do not necessarily need a lot of things to tip everything over.
  • Very interesting theoretical data, which provide food for thought, particularly in terms of marketing and communication strategy.
  • It is not a work of fiction, and yet it has its advantages: one travels from one universe to another, to the rhythm of numerous stories and scientific experiments.

Weak points:

  • It is not always easy to link all the information mentioned, especially since at times the pieces of information seem to lack consistency between them.
  • The examples supposed to support the author’s claims date back to several decades, even centuries.

My rating : Public Speaking audience Public Speaking audience Public Speaking audiencePublic Speaking audiencePublic Speaking audiencePublic Speaking audiencePublic Speaking audiencePublic Speaking audiencePublic Speaking audience

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3 – Malcolm Gladwell’s Best Quotes

Malcolm Gladwell 

Success Factors and the Chances of Success

  • “We think that outliers have very little chance of winning. […] That’s not the case at all. It happens all the time that underdogs win.”
  • “Luck does not seem to be the exception among billionaires, rock bands and sports stars. It’s rather the rule.”
  • “At first glance, star lawyers, math geniuses and software moguls seem detached from ordinary experience, but this is not the case. They are the products of history and community, who benefited from opportunities and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious: it is rooted in a web of advantages and legacies, some deserved, some not, some earned, some due to luck, but all essential to their fate. A prodigy, ultimately, is not at all miraculous.”
  • “Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.”
  • “The culture to which we belong and the legacies passed down by our forebears unimaginably shape the patterns of our achievement. In other words, it is not enough to wonder what successful people are like. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.”
  • “The sense of possibility that is so necessary to success does not come only from us or from our parents. It comes from our time: special opportunities presented to us by our particular situation in history.”
  • “A child from a troubled family living in a suitable neighborhood is more likely to turn out well than a child raised in a good family living in a troubled neighborhood.”

Communication

  • “For a group to serve as an incubator for a contagious message […], the size must be kept below 150. Otherwise, structural obstacles are created, which threaten its harmony and cohesion.”
  • “The content of the message counts as much as the messenger. Specifically, information must stick, be unforgettable to the point of causing change and inspiring people to act.”
  • “Social epidemics work just like disease epidemics. They are triggered by the actions of a handful of people who stand out clearly from the crowd by their sociability, energy, knowledge or influence.”
  • “Anyone who wants to trigger an epidemic, be it an epidemic of a product, idea or behavior, must exploit this ability that critical people have to translate the message of an innovator into a language that the rest of the population will understand.”
  • “Too much information does not promote understanding; on the contrary, it harms it. To make good decisions, you have to filter.”
  • “When you try to explain yourself in writing, you greatly decrease your chances of having a flash of genius to solve a riddle – just like describing a face in writing decreases the chances of recognizing it during a lineup.”
  • “If everyone was forced to think otherwise, outside the box, it may be that the box needed to be changed.”

Courage and Resilience

  • “Courage is not a virtue that we already have, which makes us brave when times are tough, but rather an advantage that is acquired by living through difficult times and discovering that they are not so difficult after all.”
  • “We should […] ask if we, as a society, need people who have overcome trauma – and the answer is downright yes. This idea is hardly pleasant because, for each spared individual whose traumatic experience has strengthened their character, there are countless survivors broken by what they have experienced. The fact remains that in certain circumstances and at certain times, we all depend on people who have been hardened by life.”
  • “The same traumatic experience can have two completely opposite consequences: it can cause serious harm to one group and improve the lot of another.”
  • “Cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and last a long time: they persist, almost intact, from one generation to the next, even when the economic, social, and demographic conditions which gave rise to them have disappeared. They govern our attitudes and behaviors, so much so that if we do not identify them, we cannot understand the world around us.”
  • “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it has no meaning.”
  • “As strange as it sounds, you are more likely to be a better person if you live in a clean neighborhood than if you live on a street littered with trash, surrounded by walls covered in graffiti.”
  • “Pure good does not exist. When it reaches a very high level, a quality or a positive experience or a favorable situation has a cost that can exceed its advantages.”

Tipping Point

  • “Ultimately, the tipping point confirms the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. The world may seem immutable and relentless. It is not. A little push in the right place can tip it over.”
  • “Small changes can have far-reaching effects. It all depends on when the changes are made and how they are made.”
  • “It is possible to accomplish great things with few means.”
  • “When we want to change a situation using a product, an idea or an attitude, we want to transform recipients more or less: we try to infect them, to get them on board, to move them from hostility to acceptance. This can be done thanks to the influence of a certain type of extraordinarily sociable people: critical people. This can be done by increasing the stickiness of a message, making its content unforgettable to the point that it sticks to the mind and prompts action. But it can also be done by slightly modifying the context, although this conception of influence goes against the most deeply rooted beliefs in human nature.”
  • “It’s much more difficult than you think to raise children in a wealthy environment. People can be destroyed by poverty, but they can also be destroyed by wealth, because they lose their ambitions, their pride, and their self-esteem. It is difficult at both ends of the economic spectrum. It’s probably better to be in the middle.”

Intuition and Immediate Understanding

  • “Surface scanning is not a strange gift. It is a very human faculty. It is used at every new encounter, when you have to understand something in the blink of an eye or when you are in an unusual situation. If you use it out of necessity first, you end up relying on it because it is a very effective method, which gives excellent results.”
  • “Too often human beings immediately accept their first impressions, because it seems almost impossible to control what arises from their unconscious. Whereas, on the contrary, you can act upon the context of your immediate understanding and, in so doing, upon your intuition. This is how you avoid making mistakes in war, in an emergency room or in a patrol car.”
  • “The relevance of decisions made under stress depends on […] practice, repetition and respect for the rules.”
  • “Immediate understanding is not a magic gift or the prerogative of a lucky few. It’s an ability that we can develop.”
  • “You can learn to improve your snap judgments just as you learn to think logically and consciously.”

Power

  • “When a person or an institution in a position of power wants others to behave correctly, they must first and foremost set an example. This is called the ‘principle of legitimacy’.”
  • “Superficial relationships are a source of social power, and the more you have, the more powerful you are.”

What about you, did you particularly enjoy any of Malcolm Gladwell’s books? Do you know of any other quotes from Malcolm Gladwell? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments!

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