19. Malcolm Gladwell
for rethinking how we think about thinkers.
journalist | New Yorker | New York
With a mind as unorthodox as his hairdo, Gladwell is a genre-originating journalist: a specialist in translating counterintuitive research for the lay reader on subjects as diverse as Enron, the full-court press in basketball, ketchup, and racial bias. Most recently, he attacked the notion of genius in 2009's Outliers, which argues that circumstance and practice (10,000 hours of practice, to be precise) mean as much as gray matter and natural talent. The brilliance of a Bill Gates or a Mozart is not a freak phenomenon, he writes, but the product of extraordinary amounts of effort at precisely the right moment. By making surprising arguments seem obvious, Gladwell has added a serious dose of empiricism to long-form journalism and changed how we think about thought itself.
Gladwell's favorite thinkers:
- Richard Thaler (No. 7). Thaler is one of the very best of the behavioral economists -- the economists who understand that human beings don't behave according to the arid logic of supply and demand curves. His paper "The Loser's Curse" is perhaps the single smartest thing I've ever read about professional football, and Nudge, the book he co-wrote with Cass Sunstein, is superb.
- Gary Klein. I've been enormously influenced by Klein because he's a psychologist who studies real-world decision-making, as opposed to the way people behave in laboratories. And the worlds he looks at -- firefighters, marines, intensive care nurses -- offer extraordinary insights as to how experts behave in high-pressure situations. His first book, Sources of Power, remains one of my favorites.
- Richard Nisbett. No thinker has had as much influence on my work as Nisbett. Where to begin? He's an environmentalist -- that is, he has systematically and convincingly proven, again and again, that we are creatures of our situations, environments, and cultures. I would recommend anything he's written, but especially The Geography of Thought and Intelligence and How to Get It.
- Iain Pears. Pears is a novelist. He wrote An Instance of the Fingerpost and, most recently, Stone's Fall, among many others. I think he's the finest pure storyteller working in popular fiction, and those of us who are in the business of making arguments and communicating ideas have to pay attention to storytellers because they have the skills we desperately need.
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