Lightning doesn’t strike twice—it strikes three times. Or at least it did in the case of Malcolm Gladwell, the man who singlehandedly invented a genre of nonfiction that has hatched a thousand followers. His first book, The Tipping Point, took a very simple idea—that “little things can make a big difference”—and cobbled together a great variety of stories, all related with care and flair, to argue the validity of that idea. Using the same crazy-quilt architecture, he followed with Blink, which explored the science of first impressions, and Outliers, which limned the secrets of successful people. With each book he intrigued us, challenged us, charmed us, and, most of all, engaged us. His taste is impeccable; he may be the greatest storyteller alive. He can make us care, deeply, about a subject as apparently banal as ketchup. What is his secret? It may be his devout embrace of the soft sell, the antithesis of the chest-thumping triumphalism that marks most business books. “Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade,” he declares in the preface to What the Dog Saw, a new collection of his New Yorker articles. “It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head.”
The fact is that it’s Gladwell’s head we seem most interested in peeking inside. If you don’t enjoy reading him, you probably don’t enjoy reading very much at all.