The Tipping Point | Study Guide

Malcolm Gladwell

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Malcolm Gladwell | Biography


From England to Mennonite Canada

Malcolm Gladwell was born on September 3, 1963, to Joyce Gladwell, a Jamaican-born psychotherapist, and Graham Gladwell, a mathematics professor from England. Gladwell credits his early intellectual curiosity to his diverse family background.

Gladwell's family moved to rural Ontario, Canada, when he was age six. They lived in an area dominated by a Mennonite Christian community. Gladwell and his two older brothers were raised as Christians, and their parents encouraged reading and academic study.

Gladwell entered the University of Toronto's Trinity College as an avid political conservative. He decorated his dorm room wall with a poster of Ronald Reagan, a Republican who was the 40th president of the United States, and he named a plant after conservative author and commentator William F. Buckley. Reflecting on this period later, Gladwell said he was rebelling against the socially liberal atmosphere of his Canadian childhood: "Being a conservative was the kind of fun, radical thing to do."

Political Reporting and the New Yorker

Gladwell graduated from Trinity in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in history. After moving from Canada to the United States, he looked for a job in the advertising field but had no luck. Instead he began writing for the American Spectator, a conservative magazine, and then he did freelance work for several other publications. In 1987 Gladwell became a business and science writer for the Washington Post. At the Post he says he accumulated the "10,000 hours" of work he claims people need to develop expertise in an area.

Six years later Gladwell became New York bureau chief at the Post. Tina Brown, who was the New Yorker's editor in chief at the time, noticed Gladwell's reporting talent, and in 1996 she offered Gladwell a job as a staff writer. Gladwell describes his move to the New Yorker as "the great transition in my life ... Once you're at the New Yorker, that's what opens the doors."

In one of his early articles for the magazine, Gladwell used epidemiology, or the study of how diseases spread, to investigate the falling murder rate in Brooklyn. This article became the basis for The Tipping Point, his first book, which became a best seller.

Bringing Behavioral Science to Pop Culture

Gladwell's next book, Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking (2005), is an investigation of unconscious instant or "snap" judgments. Outliers: The Story of Success (2008) explores why certain extraordinary people—"outliers"—achieve greatness in their fields. Next Gladwell compiled several of his New Yorker columns in What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures (2009). In David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (2013), he presents a new take on perceived disadvantages and advantages in competitive situations.

Gladwell is known for challenging preconceptions and drawing surprising conclusions about behavioral science and presenting case studies in an engaging storytelling style. He has said his goal is to translate academic work for a popular audience. Many corporations and business schools put his books on their recommended reading lists.

Awards and Ongoing Projects

Gladwell's New Yorker profile of inventor and marketing whiz Ron Popeil, titled "The Pitchman," won the National Magazine Award in 2001. Gladwell made Time Magazine's 2005 list of 100 Most Influential People, and in 2011 he was named a member of the Order of Canada.

Gladwell continues to write for the New Yorker and is sought after as a public speaker. He has spoken at West Point and the National Institutes of Health, among other institutions. His podcast, Revisionist History, revisits historical events and public figures through the lens of behavioral science.

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