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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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”.

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10 thoughts on “Gladwell reviews a book: what happens to it?

  1. Ouch! Gladwell is on fire in this review (tempted to say he’s Wired).

    Maybe Chris should have given his $26.99 book away as a gimmick.
    Check that. He should have sold it for 30% of the cost and let Amazon take the 70% profit.

  2. If there is an iron law (but iron can melt) it might be that all that we enjoy free on the internet, is part of advertising in some form or other, no matter how indirect. He who provides that free application or free service (including free reading of on-line newspapers and magazines) would like you to do something, either now or in the future, which will ultimately put money in his pocket.

    Whatever the free application or service – blogging, on-line storage, e-mail, on-line magazines, browsers usw – if you look hard enough, you’ll inevitably see a money trail. The free service (a by-product, if you like) is always a means to someone’s remunerative end.

    That said, the internet provides a growing cornucopia of free services, applications, and reading matter, without which the lives of most of us internet junkies would feel impoverished.

    Before the internet, things were always given away free for the same reasons services and applications are given away free on the internet. Nothing has really changed.

    • “Nothing has really changed.” Spot on. Two “free” models are ancient: Give a way blades (songs) to sell razors (iPods). Give away content (TV) to Person A to charge Person B (Procter & Gamble).

  3. Andreas – this topic is particularly relevant for me since I’m in the throes of working on publicity for my book – e.g. I’m taping an interview with ‘All Things Considered’ this morning – a bit nerve racking (feel like a dog in a canoe – Latin American Spanish for nervous).

    In the meantime – on meanness between reviewers and authors:
    Alain de Botton – he’s surprisingly unphilosophical about the whole thing.

    And in case you didn’t see these – other authors who’ve flipped their lids
    Ayelet Wardmen
    Alice Hoffman

    • Wow. De Botton really lost it here. That humanizes him. More honest than the stiff upper lip.

      Let us have the link to your new interview when you have it. And good luck.

    • Andreas – here’s the link –
      It was heavily edited (4 mins) & it’s the least funny Noodles piece so far.
      They did a great job on web site (e.g. cartoon slide show).

      Have collected notes on the whole book launch and will blog about it.

      Bottom line – the power of NPR & its audience can’t be beaten.
      Noodles went from Amazon rank #7,535 to #100, #32 (& #39) in non fiction.
      Surprisingly #32 was the Kindle edition and #39 the paperback.

      PS – back on topic – the most surprising thing for me, especially about de Bottom (ht Cherie) , is how even established best selling authors are in fear of reviews.

    • Crain’s nasty review and De Bottom’s primal scream sync right in with the discussion here on the elites. Some of the worst (like Socrates) are in academia.

      Cheers to Mr. De Bottom for his Velveteen Rabbit rant.
      I’d rather have dinner with him, any day.

    • Jumped too quickly, here. Now that I have read Caleb Crain’s entire review of De Bottom’s new book, I would rather not have dinner with either of them.

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