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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Lehrer vs. Gladwell

Jonah Lehrer and Malcolm Gladwell are an interesting pair of writers. They have covered many of the same subjects or, when they seem to cover different subjects, I soon realize that they are actually examining two sides of the same coin. I have not seen either of them acknowledge the influence of the other writer, yet their shared concerns are too numerous to ignore.

Take, for example, the topic of too many kinds of toilet papers or pasta sauces on the supermarket shelves. Lehrer thoroughly investigated the neuropsychological mechanisms of choosing in his book "How We Decide" and continues to write about it (see his recent blog entry here). He complained about feeling paralyzed standing in front of the countless brands and types of toothpastes.

Tonight I stumbled on a video of Gladwell's talk about the marketing evolution of spaghetti sauce (BTW, I think he is wrong about the "authentic" Italian sauce) he gave in 2007. It is as if he was giving a direct answer to Lehrer: Look, I'm giving you a history lesson to explain why there are so many choices for every product in the supermarket and why it's not a bad thing! (On this issue I actually side with Lehrer, as I too am sick of being overwhelmed by too many choices with hardly any substantive difference. But Gladwell is also not wrong about most people feeling happier when they imagine that there is a product "just for them.")


talich said...

How we decide 写得还是不错的。不过这方面的书也太多了点,我怀疑如果已经读过一些别人的书了,再读他的,新意就少多了。

Jun said...

是啊,我很喜欢 Jonah Lehrer 的,他是科学界出身的,总体风格很遵守 scientific journalism 的传统。别人的一些书写在他这本之后,而且没这么全面。当然看科学家自己写的科普书最严谨了,可是大多数真 dense 真累啊。

Gladwell 是记者出身,态度很不严谨也很不科学,但是说故事是一把好手。

talich said...

我还没读过 Gladwell 的书呢。呵呵。

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