September 24, 2021

Who is Malcolm Gladwell? The ultimate guide to Gladwell's best books

If you’ve heard of Malcolm Gladwell non-fiction titles such as David and Goliath, The Tipping Point, and Outliers, but aren’t sure which one to start reading first, let this article be your handy guide.

You may well be familiar with the name Malcolm Gladwell; for many, it's become synonymous with the best books written about leadership, psychology, and succeeding in the workplace today. If you're familiar with the name - perhaps you've spotted some of his titles popping up on Goodreads and Reddit and are curious to find out a bit more - then we've put together a handy guide to the bestselling author.

Without further ado, here's our 'Knowledge Hack' of Malcolm Gladwell, as it were:

Who is Malcolm Gladwell? A Brief Malcolm Gladwell Biography

Named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People, English-born Canadian journalist, author, and public speaker Malcolm Gladwell is one of the leading minds of our generation.

From writing for mega-news Goliaths such as the New Yorker and the Washington Post, all the way to being co-founder and President of Pushkin Industries and The Happiness Lab, Gladwell is surely a titan of the industry. He was even created a Member of the Order of Canada in 2011. He’s also known for his podcast, Revisionist History, in which he questions history’s telling of some of our most well-known events, famous figures, or even songs. 

Why are Malcolm Gladwell's books so popular?

Malcolm Gladwell writes on topics such as entrepreneurship, psychology, sociology, and leadership. His popularity also partly stems from his masterful storytelling skills; his powerful use of the written word allows him to break down topics such as unconscious bias, human behavior, and in ways that are compelling and captivating to his readers - almost as if telling a story.

And the results of such a skillset should speak for themselves. Gladwell has written seven non-fiction titles to date, five of which have become New York Times bestsellers. (The Tipping Point has sold over two million copies in the US alone.)

Malcolm Gladwell's Bibliography

  • The Tipping Point (2000)
  • Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005)
  • Outliers: The Story of Success (2008)
  • What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures (2009)
  • David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (2013)
  • Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know (2019)
  • The Bomber Mafia (2021)

That's a lot of books. If you're not sure where to start, we’ve ranked the best Malcolm Gladwell books in order for you to read through.

1. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

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What is David and Goliath about?

In David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell explains how it’s possible for underdogs to win in situations where the odds are heavily stacked against them, and gives us the hope that we can do the same. 

1. Adversity makes us stronger

If you know that you have a safety blanket - a backup plan if everything goes wrong - it creates a mindset where you know that you can fail. Gladwell puts this in the perspective of coming from a wealthy background vs. a working class background. Most of the lessons you’ll learn from a hard knock life are applicable to the real world. On the other hand, having things handed to you isn’t a realistic expectation later in life. 

2. Turn disadvantages into advantages

It’s possible to make something we consider a hindrance into something that helps us. 

For example, a learning disability can often help us over-develop skills in other areas. This can more than help make up for any downsides. 

3. Win by relying on your uniqueness 

If you’re the underdog, never try to fight fire with fire. 

Learn to use your unique strengths and skills to play the game in a different way. Instead of dwelling on your opponent’s strengths, focus on how you can outsmart your competitor using your own way of doing things.

To find out how you can put these lessons into action, you can have a look at our David and Goliath summary on Uptime.

2. The Tipping Point

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What is The Tipping Point about?

The Tipping Point was published all the way back in 2000, but there's a reason why it's still so popular today. Gladwell explains how ideas spread like wildfire. He outlays the few elements that need to come together to help an idea reach the point of critical mass. 

1. Fire is catching

Once it’s caught fire, an idea can spread through the dry bushes of society until it engulfs the population. But to reach this climax, it first needs to reach what Gladwell calls the ‘tipping point’. 

This is the point where an idea goes from interesting to few, to a must-have for everyone. 

2. The players play

Why is it that some ideas go big, and others just never click? Gladwell believes Pareto’s Law is at play here, where 20% of the carries cause 80% of the infections. 

He believes that there are three main players in any idea that catches on: Connectors, Salesmen, and Mavens. So, if your idea is going to explode, these players are crucial. 

3. Quality is the real key

It’s all well and good saying something needs a certain number of external factors to catch on, but if the idea itself isn’t good, you don’t have a chance. 

The real key to making something go viral isn’t just wishing it so. It’s about making something so good that people can’t help but share it around. It’s only at this point where you should even consider caring about the tipping point. 

Want to find out how you can use these actions in your everyday life? Then have a look at our The Tipping Point book summary on Uptime, where we've converted these lessons into actionable insights.

3. Outliers: The Story of Success

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What is Outliers about?

As it turns out, the ‘self-made man’ is a myth. At least, that’s Malcolm Gladwell’s understanding. Outliers details that lucky events, rare opportunities and other external factors that are out of our control are what truly help guide success.

1. Practice matters - just not as much as luck

Of course, to succeed in life, you need a certain amount of genetic predisposition and no lack of hard work and practice. 

But once you reach a certain level, reaching stardom is purely a matter of luck. At this point, other factors start to take over and influence our careers. 

2. Everything is relative

Gladwell points out that relative age matters when it comes to success. As an example, he points out that most professional Canadian hockey players who end up in the NHL are born in the first half of the year. 

This is because when we are young, age makes a huge difference. If you’re sent to play with kids older than you, there can be a huge difference in skill and physicality. This in turn can impact how you develop as an athlete. 

3. Don't underestimate the impact of personal context

Where you are born is a perfect example of external factors influencing your life. 

To give a widespread example, a child born in a wealthy western country will have a much better chance at success than a child born in the third-world. 

It wasn’t up to that child to decide where they were born. It’s purely a matter of circumstance. So if a naturally talented child is born in a middle-class family in the United States of America, they would have a much better chance of realizing their potential than an equally - or more - talented child born in South Sudan.

Inequality in opportunity is a huge issue facing many people today. To find out how you can overcome any odds stacked against you, have a look at our actionable insights from the Outliers book summary over on Uptime.

4. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

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What is Blink about?

Have you ever wondered why your snap decisions often play out better than your consciously deliberate choices? Blink helps to show us how to avoid your intuitions leading you to the wrong assumptions.

1. Your unconscious mind is the fastest filter around

The relationship between time and information is tricky.

There’s a rule that says you should never make decisions until you have at least 40% of the information, but never wait until you have more than 70%. This is the sweet spot of making an informed decision but not waiting so long that a decision becomes moot. 

Luckily, our unconscious mind is the best and fastest information filtering system in the world. So feel free to listen to it every now and then. 

2. Stress influences your gut

You know the phrase ‘listen to your gut’? It turns out that there’s an exception. 

If you’re stressed out of your mind, your gut can be led astray. You can develop tunnel vision when you’re engulfed by stress, so by all means keep listening to gut, but try to keep an eye out for those times when you're stressed; you're less likely to be able to make smart decisions.

3. Fight your biases

Whether you like it or not, society has influenced the way you think. 

Stereotypes are forced upon us because our brain likes to put things into boxes. However, just because we’ve put something into a particular box - that doesn’t make it true. 

It’s important to fight societal biases and learn to think for yourself. 


What do you make of our picks?

Malcolm Gladwell's smart, savvy advice covers so many different situations that it puts his books head and shoulders above other authors. If you want to read more from the TED Talks King, then make sure to check out the full version of our Malcolm Gladwell Knowledge Hacks on Uptime.

And if it's more tips for success you're after, you can have a look at our guide on how to hack the millionaire mindset.

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