The Paris Review

MALCOLM GLADWELL & MICHAEL LEWIS

Malcolm Gladwell and Michael Lewis met in the early nineties, when both were reporting for the New Republic. Since then, they have gone on to write some of the most popular nonfiction of our day—books that use personal stories to illustrate complex ideas in psychology, technology, sports, and economics. Gladwell, a staff writer at The New Yorker, is the author of five books, including The Tipping Point (2000) and David and Goliath (2013). Lewis is the author of fifteen books, including Liar’s Poker (1989), Moneyball (2003), The Blind Side (2006), and The Undoing Project (2016).

Some years ago, Gladwell agreed to interview Lewis for The Paris Review on the Art of Nonfiction. That interview never took place. Instead, the two had a series of public conversations, between 2013 and 2016, at the Jewish Community Center of SanFrancisco; as a Live Talk at the Alex Theatre, in Glendale, California; and at the 92nd Street Y in New York. What follows—with our thanks to all three institutions—is a condensed and edited transcript of those talks.

LEWIS

How did you get your start in magazines?

GLADWELL

By mistake, really. My senior year in college, I applied for a job at this disreputable right-wing magazine that I had never heard of, The American Spectator.

LEWIS

Were you yourself a disreputable right-winger?

GLADWELL

I was, briefly, only because every other opportunity for rebellion had been cut off. I couldn’t do drugs because there literally were no drugs in my high school. The rebels in my high school smoked cigarettes, and I was a runner— I couldn’t smoke cigarettes. At one point, I announced to my mother that my friend Terry and I were unhappy with the traditional metrics of success in high school grades and that we wanted to establish a system where you would multiply your grade by the number of days you were absent from school. I thought this was a very clever form of rebellion. So what does my mother do? She said, That’s a great idea, and the next time she ran into the principal at some town meeting, she said, [putting on a prim voice] I should tell you—my mother’s very polite—that Malcolm and his friend Terry probably won’t be attending school very diligently this term. Then she gave me a bunch of notes that said, Malcolm is to be excused from school today. And she left the date blank! I couldn’t win. So what was left? I read William F. Buckley and subscribed to National Review. I wrote away to the RNC and got a big poster of Ronald Reagan to put on my wall, next to the Cheryl Tiegs poster. Then I got to college and realized that, in a Canadian college, a Ronald Reagan poster on your dorm-room wall is a prophylactic—it guarantees that you will never have any kind of relations with a woman. So I very hastily abandoned my politics and sought more mainstream forms of rebellion.

LEWIS

And yet you found your way to The American Spectator.

GLADWELL

So I did. I was approaching the end of my senior year in college and I was jobless, and kind of panicked, when a friend of mine brought me a copy of with an ad in the back for an assistant managing editor. I wrote away to the ad, and they sent back a form that I had to fill out—an application, five pages, the last question of which was, Why do you want to work for ? Now I had no idea, obviously—I had never read the magazine. So I just wrote one sentence, Doesn’t everyone want to work for ? And I got the job!] I don’t want to make money, I just love to sell guns. And here I was, this sheltered Canadian boy from the hinterlands of the Bible Belt in southern Ontario . . . I didn’t last long in that job. It took about six months for me to be fired.

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