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Malcolm Gladwell: for or against?

A mild controversy may be brewing around Malcolm Gladwell, the Canadian journalist and bestselling author of Blink and The Tipping Point, and a New Yorker staff writer.

The dispute arose after The New Republic‘s cantankerous literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, passingly referred to Gladwell as an “idiot” on his blog. Basically, Gladwell’s popularity rubs Wieseltier the wrong way, and he ascribes it to a general decline in American ideas: “The language of business is now the smart language. This society is surrendering not to economics but to economicism, which is what happens when economics settles where it does not belong,” he writes.

In response, New York Times blogger Barry Gewen hesitantly stepped up in Gladwell’s defence:

Now, Malcolm Gladwell’s books can certainly be criticized for a superficial and homiletic sheen, but their author is anything but an idiot. Gladwell has ferreted out some fascinating research and translated it into language that makes it accessible to millions of readers. He is a very capable popularizer.

Here’s what Gewen has to say about Wieseltier:

The chattering classes have long complained about how talk radio and the shouting contests that pass for political commentary on television have lowered the tone of discourse in America…. So it’s dismaying when [Wieseltier] takes the same kind of bullying cheap shot, and in one of our leading intellectual publications, that one expects from, and dislikes in, a Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly.