How ‘The Tipping Point’ Spawned a New Kind of Business Book

Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 bestseller was naive about the dark side of the ideas it championed, but taught readers that books about ideas could be cool

Margaret Heffernan
Marker

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When The Tipping Point was published in 2000, it marked a sea change in the world of books. Selling over a million copies, Malcolm Gladwell’s “biography of an idea” convinced publishers that, told well, readers could and would read serious books about economics and social change and history and science and business. A new genre of silo-busting, multi-disciplinary non-fiction was born. And even though it drew largely from academic research, it wasn’t stodgy, it was fun. And its central thesis — “there is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible” was broad enough to talk about over a beer. Suddenly books about ideas were cool.

That central idea wasn’t original; ideas of critical mass in physics and the threshold theory of disease had been around for decades. But applying the concept to pop culture — kids’ TV, shoes and drugs — sucked in new readers eager to understand how trends took off. Gladwell’s central metaphor of epidemics, while painful reading in our current circumstances, was distant and abstract enough not to…

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Margaret Heffernan
Marker
Writer for

CEO of 6 businesses, her book WILFUL BLINDNESS was called a classic; her TED talks have been seen by over 12 million people. UNCHARTED is her new book.