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. He describes himself as a storyteller, but for him the story is never enough; it must be supported, and thereby legitimated, by prestigious academic studies and copious references. He is a high priest in the cult of “studies.” He feels on safe ground only when he is able to render his story into the supposed exactitude of quantitative social science. “How often do you think the bigger side wins?” he asks rhetorically. The reader does not have to wait long for an answer: “When the political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft did the calculation a few years ago, what he came up with was 71.5 percent. Just under a third of the time, the weaker country wins.“
I've only read Gladwell's first book, The Tipping Point, though not due to any objection to his "uncritical reverence" for the "academic mind." I've always enjoyed his magazine pieces in the New Yorker. Gladwell is rarely boring. I'll probably read his other books in time.
I note with sadness the passing of “Ed.,” the anonymous editor of Blawg Review, who died recently of esophageal cancer. Although I never met Ed personally, I worked with him via email on many blog-related projects over the years, most notably the development and founding of Blawg Review.
Here's something I'd forgotten: in 2005, Ed himself launched Blawg Review in a guest post on Legal Underground. His post, titled "Oh Yeah, It's Over for Law Review," is interesting in a history-of-blawgs sort of way, and ends with this call to action:
[T]he time has come to announce Blawg Review, the next big thing in blogging for lawyers, law professors, judges who blog, and law students who'd rather make a name for themselves than make law review. How can everyone get involved?
Submit great posts from your own law blog for publication on Blawg Review, which is hosted on a different blog every Monday.
Host an upcoming issue of Blawg Review on your own incredible law blog. Evan Schaeffer is hosting "Blawg Review #1" on Notes from the (Legal) Underground on April 11th. Kevin Heller is hosting "Blawg Review #3" at Tech Law Advisor, and others have already signed on for subsequent issues. Reserve a date for your blawg review, now!
Write a review of a blawg for publication on Blawg Review. Maybe someone will review yours.
Add a link to Blawg Review on your blog and spread the word throughout the blogosphere, especially when your own fantastic posts are reviewed for all to see.
It's fun to read that post after so many years. Ed's concept for Blawg Review was based on other blog "carnivals" that were popular at the time. He approached me with the idea and asked me to assist with development and promotion. Although I was skeptical, I finally agreed--after a seemingly endless barrage of arm-twisting emails.
It turned out my skepticism was misplaced. Thanks to Ed's enthusiasm and hard work, Blawg Review was a huge success. I admit that nearly ten years later, it's been quite awhile since I've thought about Blawg Review. But the sad news about Ed has made me take notice again, and I've spent some time this morning reading the wonderful posts about Blawg Review and Ed by Mark Bennett and others. (Bennett's post contains a number of links to other posts about Ed, so I don't need to link to them all here. But be sure to read "Ed, We Hardly Knew Ye" at Trial Warrior Blog.)
Those who knew Ed won't be surprised to learn most of this money was paid to him.
Sometimes I'd receive Ed's "typos!" email only moments after I'd posted. It got to the point that each time I saw an email from Ed, my heart would sink--I'd spent so much time proofreading, but failed again.
Finally, I grew tired of Ed's emails, and tired of sending all those $10 and $20 payments to his paypal account. So I pulled the plug on my experiment in crowd-sourced proofreading.
Did my blog suffer? Not from a proliferation of typos: Ed continued to notify me of typos, just as he always had.
And he did so in a gentlemanly way, without reminding me that I had never really had to pay anyone at all for proofreading. He would have done it all for free!
Rest in peace, Ed. The blawgosphere will miss you, as will I.
Proust: “The person you chat with at a party and the person who writes a novel are not the same person.”
What does this mean for literary biography? If you're interested in this sort of question (I admit I am, but I could be an outlier), check out the essay "Examined Lives," by Phyllis Rose at American Scholar.
A more radical solution would be to change the nature of the third year
of law school altogether. Don’t many already consider it wasted? Turn
the third year into an opportunity for a yearlong apprenticeship with
actual lawyers under the umbrella of the law schools; the law schools
would function in the role of ombudsman, facilitating the communication
between the law students and their firms. (A few states offer avenues
to legal practice through apprenticeships, but not always under the
tutelage of law schools.)
If you're interested in the debate, you're welcome to read the whole thing . . .
The mystery surrounding Vincent van Gogh’s death has taken another twist after two experts disputed a recent biography that suggested he did not commit suicide but instead was killed by an acquaintance.
The Dutch painter was widely believed to have shot himself at the age of 37, even confessing it on his deathbed. Yet Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith made the shock claim that he had been shot, possibly accidentally, by a 16-year-old schoolboy.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning authors made the claim in Van Gogh: The Life, a 960-page biography released in October 2011. At the time of publication, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam said the theory was “dramatic” and “intriguing” but added that “plenty of questions remained unanswered.”
Two research experts from the museum were set on the trail of exploring the claims, however, and have no published their findings that the shocking theory of manslaughter, or even murder, simply does not add up.
The less he can write, of course, the more admirable his achievement. As well as the heroism of Robert Langdon, we must think of the heroism of Dan Brown. This is a man who started out with such a shaky grasp of the English language that he still thinks “foreboding” is an adjective meaning “ominous.” I also relished “Sienna changed tacks.” Read aloud, these three words would suggest that the pretty, young woman had altered her arrangement with the Internal Revenue Service. But Dan Brown has never read one of his own sentences aloud in all his life; and why, now, would he need to? He can buy and sell all the pedants in the world.
It's easy to dump on Dan Brown. But it's not so easy to write like Dan Brown, despite what the reviewers might think--if it were, more people would be name-brand authors who sell a gazillion books.