Malcolm Gladwell seems to believe that Israel has become a Goliath but he doesn’t think American readers are “self-critical” enough to absorb this truth. Gaby Wood of the Telegraph interviews him about his new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the art of battling giants.
[T]he truth is, he doesn’t go all that far. There’s something troublingly palatable about the new book. In the endnotes to one of the chapters on education, for instance, Gladwell has much stronger views than he expresses in the text itself. “So what should we do? We should be firing bad teachers,” he suggests. But he has buried that stuff at the back. “Yeah. It’s true. That’s absolutely the case,” he admits when I put this to him.
Far from being a purveyor of self-evidence, I suspect Gladwell is much more radical than he lets on. Why hide it?
“The problem is, in America, there are all these landmines,” he says. “Like, I wanted to do a chapter on terrorism, and the question is, which example do I use? The example you cannot use is Israel – not because there aren’t a ton of fascinating lessons to be learnt in how Israel has navigated these issues in the course of its history. But it would have gotten politicised – no one would read your book anymore.” So he chose Northern Ireland, because it was “safer”, and because “the willingness to be self-critical in England is much greater than the willingness to be self-critical in America”.
But if he has things to say about Israel, why doesn’t he want to say them?
“I actually don’t even know if I do,” he says. “I just worried too much. I didn’t want the book to be put in a pigeonhole. And I don’t know if I’m smart enough. What’s interesting with Israel is that in some contexts they’re always David, and in some contexts they have become Goliath.
“Depending on your perspective. If I were to write another chapter to this book I’d love to write about that tension – because lots of people wear two hats. Companies do this all the time – they start out as Davids and become Goliaths.”
I wonder if Gladwell is referring to Jewish readers when he says that American readers are not self-critical. It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jewish readers, including ones in important editorial jobs, play an important role in making a book a bestseller. I recommend Goliath by Max Blumenthal. He knows what Israel has become, and is not afraid to describe it. P.S. You don’t have to be smart.
(h/t Michael Auerbach)