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Malcolm Gladwell has found a new way to tell stories

By Kobo • April 30, 2021Kobo in Conversation Podcast

"There's a certain kind of science book now which goes, anecdote, anecdote, study, study, study, anecdote, study, study, study, anecdote... and I can't stand those books anymore. I wrote one myself -- that's what The Tipping Point is..."

With the publication of his first book in 2000, Malcolm Gladwell pioneered and then dominated a whole genre of non-fiction where concepts explored in academic research were made presentable to a mass audience. But lately he's been thinking very differently about his craft.

In 2015 he created the hit podcast Revisionist History, all about setting the record right on things we've collectively misremembered. His success in the new medium led to his 2019 book Talking to Strangers, where the audiobook was notable for including the voices of interview subjects like a podcast would, rather than just the voice of the author in the studio -- though it was still primarily a written work. In this debut episode of Season 4 of Kobo in Conversation, Gladwell tells us that wasn't the case with his new book, The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War, which grew from a series of podcast episodes released last summer into a full-length audiobook (for the visually-inclined, an eBook does exist).

The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell

Most military thinkers in the years leading up to World War II saw the airplane as an afterthought. But a small band of idealistic strategists had a different view. This “Bomber Mafia” asked: What if precision bombing could, just by taking out critical choke points—industrial or transportation hubs—cripple the enemy and make war far less lethal?

View Audiobook

In this conversation we learned about the books that captivated Malcolm in his youth, and the writers that inspire him now:

  • He frequented libraries as a child -- "My parents declined to get a television" -- where he was introduced to Charles Dickens, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien
  • "Janet Malcolm is someone I've been reading my entire career. Not that I try to do what she does -- because I don't think anyone can... She gives you confidence that stories can work at that length."
  • "David Grann at the New Yorker is another who's really an extraordinary storyteller."
  • "There was a period in my life where I got very interested in Michael Lewis' writing and trying to understand how he could do what he does."

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