Friday, March 27, 2015

The free-range public intellectual

I checked Megan McCardle's The Upside of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success out of the library some many weeks ago.  I have liked her work on Bloomberg pretty well, and I liked the looks of the book from the intro.

I'm now about 80 page into it. As many of you faithful readers (I love you all!) know, this is often an inflection point for me with books, and I may just need to return this one to the library soon.  My core issue with the book is this: I was connecting with McCardle well when she reflected on her own challenges and how she overcame them.  But then she veered off into abstracting about the nature of human experience using a wide range of materials drawn from anthropology, business anecdotes, behavioral economics, and I can't remember what else.

It seems to me that the influence of Malcolm Gladwell as well as a general trend towards interdisciplinarity in academia hasn't been all that felicitious for the reader, necessarily.  The temptation for a writer to draw together disparate strands of discourse into one big narrative is huge, it makes us feel big and mighty.  Lord knows I fall victim to it.  At least the bite-sized snippets I serve up here on the blog steer clear, to some extent, from the temptation towards aggrandizement.

But all too often it's easier to connect to people writing about things that are nearer to home.  The dictum for years has been to "write what you know," and it's deucedly hard to have true command of a lot of stuff, and harder yet to bring it all together coherently.

Yes, that is the goal in the end, to make sense of it all.  To communicate that sense is terribly hard.

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