Friday, January 20, 2017

Gladwell Done

I've recently been listening to the podcast Revisionist History, following a strong recommendation from a close friend. If anything, he didn't speak of it highly enough.

Revisionist History comes from Malcolm Gladwell, and if you're familiar with his work, that may be all you need to know to go check it out. If you're unfamiliar with Gladwell's clever and insightful writing on human nature -- his study-backed examinations of sociology and psychology -- let me try to sell you.

This podcast, in the words of its host, is about things "overlooked and misunderstood." The title suggests a look back into the past, but that's only part of the story here. Gladwell is clearly interested in the here and now; the episodes that dig into history typically do so as analogy for the present day. This is a podcast that educates in an attempt to break that old adage that "history repeats itself." The 10-episode first season was completed months ago, and I'm still working my way through them. But so far, each episode has been as fascinating as the last.

Right out of the gate, episode one takes on the glass ceiling, telling the story of a breakout artist in the 19th century who became one of the first women to be taken seriously in the British art world. Gladwell explains how "moral licensing" kept other women from following in her footsteps, and even brought her career to a premature end. (He also draws parallels to women in modern politics, material that plays much differently today than when the episode was first released in June.)

Subsequent episodes delve just as deeply into a variety of fields. A look at spies and information gathering from the Vietnam war gives context for why "intelligence failures" happen. A look at professional basketball exposes how the best way of doing something doesn't necessarily rise to the top of the heap. Education in America is the focus of a three-part run of episodes in the middle of the season.

Each episode is enlightening, engaging, end entertaining. The only thing that has kept me from devouring them is the knowledge that then I won't have any more until a second season rolls around. But it's definitely a new favorite for me, a show I heartily recommend. Revisionist History is a top-notch, grade A piece of work.

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