Gladwell reviews a book: what happens to it?
My wife and I were talking about Malcolm Gladwell’s review of Chris Anderson’s new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price. We were trying to decide whether the review was merely lukewarm or devastating. Here is Gladwell’s last sentence:
The only iron law here is the one too obvious to write a book about, which is that the digital age has so transformed the ways in which things are made and sold that there are no iron laws.
Ouch. That seems to be Gladwell’s way of saying that the book should not have been written, because to be correct it would have had to be too obvious, and to be non-obvious it ended up being non-correct.
(And this in an industry with a preponderance of inappropriately positive reviews.)
This is of interest to me for two reasons:
- My own book will soon come out (no, I don’t yet know exactly when), and I hope to have reviews, and above all good reviews, and simultaneously wonder how I would deal with bad reviews.
- Chris is a former colleague of mine at The Economist (he is now editor of Wired), and we are friends. Gladwell, on the other hand, is as close as you get in the writing world to a celebrity.
Chris has already responded to the review, in a remarkably measured tone. I couldn’t help but notice the parenthetical phrase
… Gladwell (who, by the way, I both like and admire, so let’s call this an intellectual debate between corporate cousins)…
The “corporate cousins” reference is to the relationship between the New Yorker and Wired, both of which are owned by Condé Nast. But I couldn’t help but wonder whether the “both like and admire” bit, which is indubitably true, was put there with the subtext “please don’t hurt me even more”.