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Everybody Hates Malcolm (Gladwell), Cont.
President Barack Obama said he bought “books for every age group, from five to 52″ — including one on how race affects athleticism — in a trip Saturday afternoon to Politics & Prose, an independent bookstore in Washington, D.C.
The semi-controversial book “The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance,” by David Epstein may have been Obama’s most interesting purchase – Epstein himself has acknowledged that the book tackles taboo topics such as race and the unsettled nature-nurture debate. ....
Beside many other topics, Epstein explains in his book why track and field sprinters of West African descent tend to excel in the sport compared to other racial cohorts. Inborn differences in hemoglobin levels and limb length are part of the explanation for their dominance in the sport, he says. That topic is still taboo in most academic circles, says Epstein, for fears that it may lead to discussions on innate intelligence differences.
“I’m pleased and certainly surprised he picked up my book, but not at all surprised he’s interested in the topics,” said Epstein, who was reached by The Daily Caller News Foundation via email.
“I don’t think the president does nor should shy away from topics like gender and race — and certainly not from the science of genetics — that are important to Americans and humans generally,” said Epstein, adding that he wants to use the stage of sports to explore the deepest questions about “human biological diversity.”
“I hope he enjoys using sports to delve into evolution, genetics, and questions about nature and nurture as much as I did,” Epstein told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
I've been trying to get up the energy to thoroughly read Gladwell's latest book, which looks from a skimming like a considerable improvement over his celebrated earlier efforts. Perhaps I could write a contrarian rave, but so far I just don't have it in me to dive in.
In The New Republic, John Gray hates Malcolm. (Of course, John Gray hates everybody.) But he makes some good points:
Yet Gladwell has more in common with his academic critics than either he or they realize, or care to admit. Academic writing is rarely a pursuit of unpopular truths; much of the time it is an attempt to bolster prevailing orthodoxies and shore up widely felt but ill-founded hopes. ... What is striking about Gladwell’s work is not its distance from academic theorizing but the uncritical reverence that he displays toward the academic mind.
Gladwell is not unaware that he's highly trusting toward academics: he's stated that directly.
My guess is that people who have bought more than one Malcolm Gladwell book tend to be well-socialized college graduates who find that Malcolm reminds them of that really fun professor they had.
Personally, I'm all in favor of what Gladwell does as a genre, I just want him to do it better.