Thursday, October 10, 2013

Gladwell on Michael Lewis & Albert O Hirschman

Which writers do you find yourself returning to again and again — reading every new book and rereading the old?
Did I mention Lee Child? The two contemporary writers whom I consider as role models are Janet Malcolm and Michael Lewis. I reread Malcolm’s “Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession” just to remind myself how nonfiction is supposed to be done. I love how ominous her writing is. Even when she is simply sketching out the scenery, you know that something wonderful and thrilling is about to happen. Lewis is tougher, because what he does is almost impossible to emulate. “The Big Short,” one of the best business books of the past two decades, was about derivatives. I read Lewis for the same reasons I watch Tiger Woods. I’ll never play like that. But it’s good to be reminded every now and again what genius looks like.

What books, to your mind, bring together social science, business principles and narrative nonfiction in an interesting or innovative way?
Can I return again to Michael Lewis? Bringing together social science and business principles is easy. Doing that and telling a compelling story is next to impossible. I think only Michael Lewis can do it well. His nonbusiness books like “The Blind Side,” by the way, are even better. That book is as close to perfect as a work of popular nonfiction can be. 

What’s the last book to make you laugh out loud? To cry? And the last book that made you angry?
I read Jeremy Adelman’s biography of Albert O. Hirschman early this year and was deeply moved by it. Hirschman wasn’t just a man with a thousand extraordinary adventures (fighting fascists in Spain, smuggling Jews out of France, writing “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty” and a handful of other unforgettable books). He was also wise and decent and honest. I finished that book with tears in my eyes.

- Read rest of the interview here

Albert O. Hirschman's biography is the best book I read this year and yes, I had tears in my eyes at the end. It felt like he had become part of my family. No doubt, life on this planet is still civilized only because of people like him.

If biography is the art of the singular to illuminate a pattern, Hirschman’s odyssey can be read as a journey with no particular end, the life of an idealist with no utopia because he believed that the voyage of life itself yielded enough lessons to change who we are and what we aspire to be; to require and stay on course toward an abstract destination threatened to deprive the journey of its richest possibilities.

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