Gladwell bases his book on a single notion called “truth-default theory”. We tend to assume that other people are telling the truth, which is the basis of trust and social cooperation, so liars are hard to spot. Not mentioned here is the well-known opposite phenomenon: that, far from defaulting to truth, we believe only the information that fits with our preconceived biases. Both ideas are right, because the world is complicated, but Gladwell’s job is to make it seem simple... “If I can convince you of one thing in this book,” he announces dramatically, “let it be this: Strangers are not easy.”
Perhaps if we can all become convinced of this novel truth, we will stop harassing and raping one another for good. If only someone like Shakespeare had encoded the lesson centuries ago in some memorable form, like, I don’t know, “There’s no art / To find the mind’s construction in the face.”
Dopeworld: Adventures in Drug Lands
"To its credit, Dopeworld is nothing if not ambitious. Vorobyov states as much himself, describing it bombastically as ‘true crime, gonzo, social, historical memoir meets fucked up travel book’. That is a lot to cram in. If sometimes he drops the ball (the..."
— The Spectator
Superb writing. Masterful structure. Eye-catching facts drawn from elegantly repurposed academic studies. This formula made his earlier books — The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers — smash hits. This time, the result is just as enjoyable to read, yet also oddly unsatisfying... It is too much to say that the times no longer suit Gladwell. But this would have been a better book if it took a harder look at the troubled age in which it has been published.
“A young woman and a young man meet at a party,” Gladwell writes, “then proceed to tragically misunderstand each other’s intentions — and they’re drunk.” This is a bizarre way to describe a situation that ended with a conscious Turner being found on top of an unconscious Miller behind a dumpster. He had pulled down her dress, removed her underwear and assaulted her with his fingers. In what universe is this the result of a tragic misunderstanding?
This is where Gladwell’s insistence on theory can be distorting, rather than clarifying. Theory can provide a handy framework, transforming the messy welter of experience into something more legible, but it can also impose a narrative that’s awkward, warped or even damaging. Gladwell himself seems to realize as much. His 2000 book “The Tipping Point” endorsed the “broken windows” theory that aggressive policing of minor infractions can prevent more serious crimes; years later, as debates about mass incarceration came to the fore, he conceded that the theory was “oversold,” and that he regretted his part in promoting it.
Because of this, the book’s payoff is something of a damp squib, though at least it’s a realistic one: ‘We will never know the whole truth’ about strangers, he tells us. ‘We have to be satisfied with something short of that.’ This is good advice, as is that which he offers elsewhere: ‘what is required of us is restraint and humility.’ All very well, you might say, except that this is coming from the man who became world-famous for his 2005 book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, which had a diametrically opposed conclusion. Nevertheless, this better-late-than-never embrace of complexity and of the limitations of the glib ‘storytelling’ approach to understanding human behaviour is welcome – even if it makes Gladwell a stranger to his old self.
There is a reason why Gladwell is a rock star of nonfiction. This is a dazzling book. Stories are well selected and brilliantly told, ideas are slowly revealed until the reader arrives at a conclusion they didn’t expect. Gladwell is advancing ideas and, sure, they are all open to challenge. Is Levine right about TDT? Are the theories of crime prevention correct? But they are stimulating and convincing — and you won’t regret a minute you spend mastering them.