Gift Guides: 7 Books for People Who Love Malcolm Gladwell


Throughout the holiday season, we’re gathering books that make the perfect gifts for everyone on your list—from your mother and the teen in your life to your foodie friend and the coworker who loves Harry Potter. Need more ideas? Check out all of our amazing gift guides

Having a hard time deciding what to buy the passionate Malcolm Gladwell aficionado in your life? Fear not, my literary enthusiast, because I assembled a collection of absorbing, intellectually compelling human behavior books for that difficult-to-shop-for Gladwell fanatic who has already reached their Tipping Point, Blinked, and discovered What the Dog Saw. Consider adding these to your holiday shopping list:

David and Goliathby Malcolm Gladwell
The obvious gift of choice for your Gladwellian. One of the central themes in this trenchant tale of underdogs and giants is turning the notion of advantage and disadvantage on its head. Gladwell thoroughly explains the widespread misapprehension regarding his book’s eponymous tale. First, many medical experts now believe that Goliath suffered from a benign tumor that caused vision problems. Second, David turned his perceived disadvantage (lack of size) into an advantage (speed) and instead of fighting his foe in the traditional manner of hand-to-hand combat, a battle he would have surely lost, David relied on another strength: his slinging ability. Spoiler alert: David won.

“There is a set of advantages that have to do with material resources, and a set that have to do with the absence of material resources,” Gladwell explains. “The reason underdogs win as often as they do is that the latter is sometimes every bit the equal of the former.” So get ready to blast some Queen, underdogs. Your time to shine is now!

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
Written by a Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Thinking, Fast and Slow comprehensively explains the two systems that drive the way we think and offers insightful theories that can be implemented in our day-to-day life. One such theory is the halo effect—our tendency to like or dislike everything about a person, including things we have not observed. Another is the principle of independent judgments that discusses the biases that can arise in group meetings. Kahneman offers a simple remedy to neutralize a group bias: “Before an issue is discussed, all members of the committee should be asked to write a brief summary of their position. This procedure makes good use of the value of the diversity of knowledge and opinion in the group.”

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, by Ori Brafman & Rom Brafman
Admirers of Gladwell’s unique brand of outside-the-box sociology will appreciate the Brafman brothers’ analytical approach to explaining society’s proclivity for irrational behavior. One such example is the rather antiquated practice of modern job interviews. Sway posits that being cognizant of our own diagnostic bias—our tendency to label people based on our initial opinions of them and our inability to recalibrate those judgments—will help improve our evaluation skills when conducting interviews of a professional or personal nature.

I Wear the Black Hat, by Chuck Klosterman
If Gladwell has a pop-culture doppelgänger, it may just be the king of contradictory contemplation himself, Mr. Chuck Klosterman. While Gladwell tends to theorize about social psychology, Klosterman sets his analytical gaze on the concept of villainy in I Wear the Black Hat. Klosterman magnificently blends his incisive cultural examination with fervently entertaining self-analysis in an attempt to make sense of our society’s complex relationship with heroes and villains. From the outset he promises that I Wear the Black Hat will not be a “repetitive argument that insists every bad person is not-so-bad and every good person is not-so-good.” Instead he asks questions like, “Why do I always want to turn the bad guy into the good guy? ” and makes textbook Klosterman-y statements like, “Whenever someone says something that’s both realistic and abhorrent, it makes me suspect everyone else is lying about everything else.”

Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin
Want to be the next Mozart, Tiger Woods, or even the next Mark-Paul Gosselaar? Disproving a few popular misconceptions regarding the role of talent in highly successful individuals, Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated could help you get there. Studies show that many scientists and authors produce their greatest work only after 20 or more years of devoted effort or “deliberate practice.” “Deliberate practice,” argues Colvin, “is a type of practice actively designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help. It must be constantly repeated, is highly demanding mentally, requires continuous feedback, and isn’t much fun.” According to research,”The differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”

Maybe being talented is overrated.

Iconoclast, by Gregory Berns
An iconoclast is someone who attacks settled beliefs and institutions; a person who looks at the world differently. Berns provides a thought-provoking guide on how to break away from the conformity and train yourself to think differently. Two impediments to iconoclastic thinking are fear of uncertainty and fear of public ridicule—two afflictions I face on a daily basis. (I’m not 100% certain I should have divulged that secret, since I’m terrified of being mocked.)

If you want to become a true iconoclast and change the way you perceive the world around you, Berns argues, you need to bombard your brain with new experiences. An iconoclast embraces novelty. So eat a lima bean! Learn how to play the didgeridoo! Take a salsa lesson! Because as Marcel Proust once said, “The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in seeing with new eyes.”

The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Taleb’s The Black Swan is an eye-opening assessment of the impact of outliers. It posits that, “What you don’t know is far more relevant that what you do know.” Taleb’s densely packed intellectual roller coaster also analyses the problem of inductive knowledge, asking, “How can we logically go from specific instances to reach general conclusions?”

What book would you recommend for a fan of Malcolm Gladwell?

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