Who to Read

Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson time 13:30 min

Malcolm breaks down the strengths of some of his favorite writers: Lee Child, David Epstein, Michael Lewis, and Janet Malcolm.

Malcolm Gladwell
Teaches Writing
In 24 lessons, the author of Blink and The Tipping Point teaches you how to find, research, and write stories that capture big ideas.
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I have read every novel by Lee Child. So, all of the Jack Reacher novels. And the Jack Reacher novels are super interesting because-- for many reasons. But principally because he's interested-- you think what they are are kind of written versions of action movies. They're not. They're the opposite. So, there's a lot of action. Jack Reacher-- in the course of every Jack Reacher novel, usually there's two or three moments where he beats up and kills a bunch of people. But the thing that's interesting about those moments is the way that Lee Child describes the thought processes of Jack Reacher, not the acts themselves. So it's not that-- there are some in noir fiction or standard thrillers. You read it, and it's like, the guy, two guys meet in a dark alley, and he punches so-- they describe the action. Punch, punch, pulls a knife. , and then they're done. The whole thing about Lee Child is that-- the key is he lets you into Jack Reacher's thought process before the action occurs. So there's massive preparation. So the actual action is relatively brief, but he'll do paragraphs-- Proustian paragraphs-- on the inner workings of Jack Reacher's mind, as he prepares to destroy, kill, maim, what have you, the various bad guys he's encountering. And that is, first of all, a massive innovation in that world-- I know because I read these novels obsessively-- and super interesting. That's what's drawing you in. If you think about those books that are now sold, cajillions of millions of them, they're all exactly the same. The plot of every single one is the same, right? Minor variations. So why do I, among millions, keep reading them? The answer is because we find that thing, among other things. We find that thing deeply fascinating, to be let into the mind of a highly intelligent, highly calculating, essentially psychopath. Because let's be clear-- I once for fun tried to total up how many people Jack Reacher has killed over the course of the 24 Jack Reacher novels. It's in the hundreds. So anyone who's killed hundreds of people outside the field of combat is a psychopath. So we are reading a novel about a psychopath as hero. Why? Because we want to know, we're fascinated by the psychopath's calculation of the angles, the geometry, the physics, the psychology, the what have you, of encountering a bad guy in a difficult moment. And also the fact that-- to add, kind of, insult to injury, Jack Reacher doesn't carry a gun. So, in all of this, there invariably has to be the calculation of how can he acquire a gun before he gets shot himself. Right? So it's like this-- it's his version of a puzzle. He's constructed this question. How on earth is Jack Reacher going to figure out how to maim the guy in front of him? And I'm going to walk you through the kind of internal, mental, and emotional processes that predate the act of the psychopath. As someone who's interested in writing about the life of the mind, I find this riveti...

Transform the ordinary

Ketchup. Crime. Quarterbacks. Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, these ordinary subjects have helped millions of readers grasp complex ideas like behavioral economics and performance prediction. Now, the renowned storyteller and best-selling author of Blink and The Tipping Point is teaching his first online writing class. Craft stories that captivate by learning how Malcolm researches topics, crafts characters, and distills big ideas into simple, powerful narratives.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Excellent story teller with insights in how and why he writes. As in all learning, you find nuggets that help you understand that which you found complicated before. Clarity is the word I am looking for. In this class I found several.

What about an online Q&A with Gladwell and the Masterclass team?

I have learned about the craft of writing non-fiction in way that is new to me. The lessons are very practical and can be incorporated in to my work discipline easily.

Malcolm Gladwell is exceptional in print and as an instructor. His insight into the world of writing is illuminating. He accomplished this with readings of his own work and with the work of other writers and offered solid interpretations of both.


Lana G.

Always want to hang out with you, Malcolm. Worked with you on Topic A with Tina Brown. 2002? You've come a long way, baby. This class is extraordinary. Thank you.

Ronaldo M.

Despite our different political points of view, I became an unquestionable Malcom fan. You sire, are great.

Jennie C.

Great session. Provides clarity on why he reads these particular authors.... how he connects with their writing. It also prods you into being a more alert writer by seeing what really appeals to you in the styles of the favorite authors...

Teodor A.

I think you are an amazing story teller and writer. you have inspired me since I first read your book outliers. i think it takes a lot of courage to be where you are.


I’ve never read any Jack Reacher. They sound very interesting I’d want to read. The whole thought processes remind me of the slow motion mind combats before the actual combats in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes.

Ekin Ö.

I liked how he explains the dominant sides of all those writers. It provides a unique tool to do the same thing with the books I read.

Adrian R.

I’ve read all Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels too! Nice to know that I have a connection with MG....other than enjoying his books.

Tina K.

I read a Lee Child book and found interesting that the author doesn't describe the characters physically in detail. Some authors take paragraphs when they introduce a main character. I also read Janet Malcolm's article on NYC's independent bookstore, Argosy and it is on my to-do list to visit.

Tom R.

Like MG, I am a huge Lee Child fan but admit that -- even as a first time thriller writer (now writing my 2nd) -- I hadn't really examined what was so compelling in Child's novels. MG is absolutely right. The plots are exactly the same. Jack Reacher will always kill more bad guys never starting out with a gun He will often hookup the beautiful girl but it cannot last because Reacher doesn't stay anywhere (or she dies). I've always thought what is most intriguing about Reacher...he travels with nothing except the clothes on his back and his toothbrush -- and buys new clothes vs ever washing them. What is mesmerizing about what Child is how he throws you into the mind of Jack Reacher, a a former MP, a good guy who loves to do a lot of things but only his own way. One is killing bad guys. Almost a vigilante from the Wild West. But it's all about what Reacher is thinking about before he kills them.

Nigel R.

I wasn't sure at first but over the course of the lectures, I really started to understand his approach. It has given me many ideas to consider, and yes, I need to write more. Thank you Malcolm for adding to my enlightenment.