How did someone as smart as Rosenberg miss this? Specifically, how did she wind up coining a catchy name for an everyday phenomenon whose benefits she overstates and whose demerits she overlooks? The answer, as Zen masters like to observe, lies within the question. Rosenberg, too, yielded to peer pressure and joined a club: the club of the Big Idea book.
Its accidental founder and president in apparent perpetuity is Malcolm Gladwell. Its membership, like the membership of most powerful groups, is largely male. Its combined sales are stratospheric; whatever these books are hawking, we can’t stop buying it.
They coin phrases the way Zimbabwe prints bills. They relish upending conventional wisdom: Not thinking becomes thinking, everything bad turns out to be good, and the world is—go figure—flat.
What troubles me about the Big Idea Book Club is the way ideas often slide toward ideologies—grand unifying theories of culture, cognition, happiness, talent, the Internet, the future, you name it. “The Hidden Side of Everything,” “The Story of Success”: the italics are mine, but the emphasis is theirs.