Malcolm Gladwell has lately been on perhaps the most defensive book tour in recent history. He published a screed in Slate firing back against psychology professor Christopher Chabris, who had written a piece accusing Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath, of “a lack of logic and proper evidence.” “Chabris should calm down,” Gladwell wrote. “I was simply saying that all writing about social science need not be presented with the formality and precision of the academic world.” And last night he took to "The Daily Show" to promote his book, looking withdrawn and unhappy beneath his considerable hair, by all appearances still feeling brittle from the Chabris smackdown. “These books always raise more questions than they resolve, and that’s what they’re supposed to do,” he insisted at one point. “It does raise a lot of questions,” Stewart replied.
Author interviews on these shows are often a bit of an odd spectacle, when the basic earnestness of a book tour bumps up against the satirical agenda of the host. It can clearly be tough to wedge in talking points among the wisecracks. But Gladwell has always been hard to watch in such interviews, particularly for a blockbuster author whose books are overconfident simplifications of scientific data. In a 2009 interview with Colbert to promote What The Dog Saw, Gladwell was similarly peevish. “Isn’t seeing patterns where no one else sees patterns one of the definitions of schizophrenia?” Colbert asked. “It’s also one of the definitions of fun,” Gladwell said flatly. Also: “The essays are supposed to be adventures. They are supposed to be excursions into the world of ideas.” But for an author so committed to the language of “adventure” and “fun,” it would go a long way toward boosting his brand if he could laugh off charges of charlatanism instead of constantly trying to argue with them.