Malcolm Gladwell

The goal of storytelling should be to make stories as ubiquitous as music.

Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer for The New Yorker. He is the author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath.


Why are you participating in the Cultivating Thought series?

I loved the idea of connecting to people in the real world. A story isn’t something that has to appear in a book, or on a screen. The goal of storytelling should be to make stories as ubiquitous as music has become. I used to always love when the subway in New York would put poems in the subway cars. This struck me as a similar kind of experiment.

Tell us about your two-minute read.

My story is about my father joining an old-order Mennonite barn raising. I thought of it because my father just turned 80 and I’ve been reflecting on all the things about him that I love. The story is about one of those things: my father is someone who is magnificently unconcerned with people’s social position or background.

Who inspires you? Who are your favorite authors?

I have so many favorites! But the writer who has taught me the most about writing nonfiction is Michael Lewis, the author of The Blind SideMoneyball, and Liar’s Poker, among many other wonderful books. I would happily trade my career for his. He is simply the greatest storyteller there is. His last book, The Big Short, was a page-turner about credit default swaps! Try pulling that off.

What’s the best book you read in the past year?

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure. I stumbled across it by accident in an airport bookstore and absolutely loved it. It’s an elegant, gripping story about a man learning how to be courageous. It is one of those rare novels that gives you a clear, beautiful insight into human psychology, as well as being wildly entertaining.

Two-Minute Barn-Raising

by Malcolm Gladwell

I grew up in Canada, in an area of Ontario where there is a large community of Old-Order Mennonites. “Old Orders,” as they are known, are a religious group who live as if the 20th century never happened. They avoid electricity, drive horses and buggies, leave school at 16, and bale hay by hand. They dress in plain black and white, with straw hats over clean-shaven faces, and when a neighbor’s barn burns down, they gather as a community to put it back up. When I was little, not long after we moved to Ontario, my father heard about a barn-raising down the road. He decided to join in.

If people of different colors and creeds are to get along, we think we need to practice approval and agreement and acceptance

My father is an Englishman, a mathematician with a long bushy beard. He drove an imported Peugeot station wagon. He wore a tie — always.

We were skinny book-worms, in knee-socks and ironed short-sleeved shirts. You can imagine what I thought, on the way to the barn-raising: How on earth would a group of Old Orders accept us? This is what we always worry about, of course. If people of different colors and creeds are to get along, we think we need to practice approval and agreement and acceptance. But my father didn’t accept the Mennonite way of life that day. Nor did the Old Orders come to some kind of epiphany about the virtues of European cars, and electricity and advanced degrees in mathematics. There was a barn to raise, and so long as there was work to be done, it didn’t much matter that reading Narnia books in the car, belonged to one century and the rest of the crew to another.

The world could use more of that attitude, couldn’t it? My father joined the line of men passing lumber to the workers on the roof. Midway through the day, they fed us all bologna sandwiches and mounds of sauerkraut. And in the evening, when the last nail was hammered in, we got into our Peugeot and drove away.