Having sold more than 4.5 million books, Malcolm Gladwell is one of the most popular authors alive.
He’s made a career revealing the hidden factors that affect our lives and livelihoods — for example, by unpacking the personality traits that made Steve Jobs and IKEA founder Ingvar Kampran so outrageously successful.
And like every great writer, Gladwell is a great reader.
After sifting through more than 10 years of columns and interviews with the author, here are nine of the books that have influenced him the most.
The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis
He considers him a role model.
“I read Lewis for the same reasons I watch Tiger Woods,” he told the New York Times. “I’ll never play like that. But it’s good to be reminded every now and again what genius looks like.”
For Gladwell, The Blindside is Lewis’ best, a book that’s “as close to perfect” as any work of nonfiction.
“Supposedly about football (the title refers to the side of the field a quarterback is blind to),” he says, “it’s actually an extraordinary story about love and redemption.”
Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession by Janet Malcolm
Gladwell considers Janet Malcolm to be his other role model as nonfiction writer.
“I reread Malcolm’s ‘Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession’ just to remind myself how nonfiction is supposed to be done,” Gladwell told the Times.
He loves the confidence she writes with. As he told the Longform podcast, Malcolm writes with the confidence that the reader has no choice but to keep following along — unlike how he fights for the reader’s attention with every sentence.
“Even when she is simply sketching out the scenery, you know that something wonderful and thrilling is about to happen,” Gladwell says.
The Person and the Situation by Richard Nisbett and Lee Ross
Gladwell says that University of Michigan psychologist Richard Nisbett “basically gave me my view of the world.”
The Person and the Situation is the book that most affected him.
He read it in one sitting in the summer of 1996.
In his new forward for the book, Gladwell gave a hint as to why it’s so special:
It offers a way of re-ordering ordinary experience.
We see things that aren’t there and we make predictions that we ought not to make: we privilege the “person” and we discount the influence of the “situation.”
It speaks, in short, to the very broadest questions of human perception.
Gladwell says that if you read that book, then you’ll see template of the genre that his books belong to.
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Aside from Gladwell, who else has made social science cool?
The economist-and-writer combination of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, naturally.
Gladwell loved Freakonomics.
“I don’t need to say much here,” Gladwell told The Week. “This book invented an entire genre. Economics was never supposed to be this entertaining.”
The Opposable Mind by Roger Martin
Amazon has about 13,000 books about CEOs.
Gladwell says you really only need to read one, The Opposable Mind, by University of Toronto management professor Roger Martin.
The book “explores what makes great CEOs stand out from their peers,” Gladwell says. “I realize that there are thousands of business books on the subject, but, trust me, this is the first to really answer the question.”
Martin knows what he’s talking about — in his 15 years of serving as the dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School, Fortune says that he turned “a small, irrelevant Canadian B-school to a legitimate global player.”
Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do by Tom Vanderbilt
Written by Slate columnist Tom Vanderbilt, Traffic investigates human nature from beyond the driver’s seat.
Gladwell says that Traffic is “one of the heirs to the Freakonomics legacy.”
Vanderbilt, “a very clever young writer, tells us all sorts of things about what driving says about us,” Gladwell says. “I kept waiting for the moment when my interest in congestion and roads would run its course. It never did.”
Personal: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child
When Gladwell reads for pleasure, it’s almost always a spy novel.
He’s read hundreds of them.
When the New York Times asked him if he could suggest any book to Barack Obama, he said that it would obviously be the new Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series.
“It might be nice for [Obama] to escape for a few hours to a world where one man can solve every one of the world’s problems with nothing but his wits and his fists,” Gladwell said.
Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb
Gladwell likes to write about compellingly cantankerous people. As of late, he’s argued that the job of managers is to “harbor and protect obnoxious and brilliant people.”
Early in his writing career, he found such a subject in controversial investor-philosopher Nassim Taleb.
In a New Yorker profile of Taleb, Gladwell said that Taleb’s first book, Fooled by Randomness, is “to conventional Wall Street wisdom approximately what Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses were to the Catholic Church.”
Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man by Garry Wills
Gladwell has said that he’d never try to write about politics because there are already so many fantastic political writers.
He cites the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills and his presidential biography, Nixon Agonistes, as a primary case study.
“A classic from the early ’70s by one of the great political writers of his time,” Gladwell said. “Written just before Richard Nixon resigned, it’s as devastating a portrait of him as has ever been written.”
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