A bot is a Web robot that completes assigned tasks. I was reminded of that fact as I read Malcolm Gladwell’s article in a recent issue of The New Yorker (May 10, 2010), “Does espionage work?” Three of his books (Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers) are developed from one of his New Yorker articles and one book, What the Dog Saw, consists of 19 of them.
On behalf of those who read his work, Gladwell gathers information about an especially interesting subject and his research often includes lengthy interviews of those involved. For example, to answer the question, “What does peak performance require?” he examined all relevant research conducted by Anders Ericsson and his associates at Florida State University and interviewed Ericsson. He later shares what he learned about peak performance in Outliers, notably that talent’s importance is generally overrated.
Gladwell’s most recent book, What the Dog Saw, could also have been entitled What Malcolm Learned. In it, he shares what he learned about subjects such as these:
How the products invented and then sold by Ron Popeil have helped millions of people to “conquer the American kitchen”
Why problems like homelessness may be easier to solve than manage
How criminal profiling increases our understanding of “dangerous minds”
How becoming a “people whisperer” helped Cesar Millan to save his marriage as well as become a more successful “dog whisperer”
Unlike other bots, Gladwell has impulses and understands how to act upon them on behalf of those who read his articles and books. It is also worth noting that he can become fascinated by a subject of little (if any) interest to most people, conduct research, and then write a “must read” article about it.
In “The Ketchup Conundrum,” for example, he explains that tomato ketchup “is a nineteenth-century creation – the union of the English tradition of fruit and vegetable sauces and the growing American infatuation with the tomato. But what we know today as ketchup emerged out of a debate that raged in the first years of the last century over benzoate, a preservative widely used in the late-nineteenth century condiments.” When I first read this essay in 2004, I was tempted to stop at this point. A debate about benzoate? A condiment controversy? Who cares? It is to Gladwell’s credit that he generously rewards those such as I — who continue continue to read the article — by providing some truly interesting information about a subject in which I had little (if any) prior interest.
Those who read his articles in The New Yorker already know that each is a gem. When gathered in one volume, they are a treasure.