In his new book, “Talking to Strangers,” Malcolm Gladwell writes that poets have “far and away the highest suicide rates,” as much as five times the rate for the general population. The statistic struck Andrew Ferguson, a writer for The Atlantic, as odd, so he tracked down its source: a paper that cited a 1993 book by Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychologist who based the finding on suicides among 36 “major British and Irish poets born between 1705 and 1805.” Somehow, a narrow analysis of a few dozen 18th- and 19th-century poets was mistakenly applied to all poets, then amplified in a best-selling book. (The New York Times)
This won’t be the first time Gladwell has stretched the facts to fit the story. It is how he became a mega-rich best selling author. These convenient lies or half-truths are becoming ever so prevalent in our society and eventually the proverbial repo-man is going to come calling. By the way. Ferguson’s review of the book is devastating – not that it would stop it from selling.
Some Gladwellisms have entered everyday speech. In addition to the tipping point, he’s given us connectors, mavens, stickiness, and the law of the few. And the 10,000-hour rule, of course, which taught us that greatness in art was reachable after we had practiced our craft for 10,000 hours—a “rule” so riddled with obvious exceptions and provisos that it can scarcely be called a rule, even metaphorically. In Talking to Strangers, however, Gladwell’s catchphrase factory has unexpectedly shut down. The lack of zippy new sayings contributes to the book’s general sense of fatigue.
I usually skip Gladwell’s pop-social science musings, knowing very well, that someone will espouse on them at a dinner party, sooner than later.