As I blogged last week, Malcolm Gladwell is an excellent essayist, but a lousy social scientist. His essays are sublime, with shifting meanings and gripping anecdotes. You must read to the end to see where he's going. His books, on the other hand, don't add up. He's sloppy about attributing credit to real research and separating that research from his own theories.
He has new book out, What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures,
and the reviewers have pretty much said the same thing. Steven Pinker reviews the book for the New York Times. I don't know Pinker, but my people on Twitter and Facebook are making "Pot. Kettle. Black." comments. Still, his review is right on.
Pinker also talks about why academics don't step up and write a better book than Gladwell.
In his review, Pinker outlines some of the pitfalls faced by
journalist-popularizers like Gladwell. But Pinker, the author of “How
the Mind Works” and “The Blank Slate,” acknowledges that academic
explainers have their own faults. “Academics lack perspective. In a
debate on whether the world is round, they would argue ‘no,’ because
it’s an oblate spheroid,” he said. “They suffer from ‘the curse of
knowledge’: the inability to imagine what it’s like not to know
something that they know. That makes them underestimate the
sophistication of readers and write in motherese rather than explaining
concepts from the ground up.”
Another Gladwell review here.