Chapter 23 of 24 from Malcolm Gladwell

Who to Read

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

Topics include: Lee Child: Character Construction • David Epstein: Depth of Research • Michael Lewis: Character Depth • Janet Malcolm: World Building

Malcolm Gladwell

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. [INAUDIBLE], 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, these ordinary subjects have helped millions of readers devour 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 craft online for the first time. Write stories that captivate by learning how Malcolm researches topics, crafts characters, and distills big ideas into simple, powerful narratives.

Learn Malcolm’s writing practices—including how he finds stories in unexpected places—through on-demand video lessons.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps, assignments, and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Malcolm will also answer select student questions.

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Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing