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Always making the slant connections, Malcolm Gladwell has turned his wide-ranging curiosity into a podcast, Revisionist History. This ten-episode series has a tasty focus: “Revisionist History will go back and reinterpret something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood.”

Episode 7 is a good one: “Hallelujah.”

It begins with a story about Elvis Costello creating what he himself considered his worst record, back in 1984. “You don’t have to know anything about Elvis Costello or even like his music to be interested in this story,” Gladwell says, “I’m interested in how creativity works.”

From there he goes to Cézanne, Picasso, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan (Nobel dude!), John Cale, Jeff Buckley, sussing out how genius emerges. Music, he believes, is where you can most easily see the emergence of great creativity.

Luck, too, is at work in all this.

Stories about the making of music are a favorite of mine. (Still wishing I could have hung out in Abbey Road Studios and watched The Beatles at work.) (Yes, I’ve seen The Beatles: Eight Days a Week three times now.)

Here’s a basically gratuitous photo of the late, great Jeff Buckley, who features in this podcast.



  • Every episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast is brilliant, but this one was my favorite. It sent me into a deep dive. I spent a weekend reading one of the books he referenced and listening to many versions of Hallelujah. The episodes about education funding are also fascinating.

  • My college student son suggested I listen to Revisionist History starting with this episode. I have learned something in all of them. Additionally, even though his University is not in the US, it gave me a level of satisfaction knowing that their cafeteria food was not very good! Maybe they too have the bigger picture in mind.

  • Wow, thanks for this recommendation. I knew nothing about it, although I am a fan of Gladwell’s books. I will certainly check this out.

  • I agree — Gladwell’s curiosity is matched only by his storytelling, and both are stellar in Revisionist History. And I love his voice. Absolutely love it.

    Ann, given your love of stories about how music is made, have you checked out the “Song Exploder” podcast, in which songs are deconstructed layer by musical/lyrical layer and decision by decision? My favorites so far were about two very different soundtracks: “House of Cards” and “Downton Abbey” — just wonderful — and “Water Fountain” was thought-provoking. But all are worth a listen, even when the song involved is unfamiliar or not really to one’s taste.

  • Any post which has a “gratuitous” photo of Jeff Buckley has my vote. I’m just about to listen to the Revisionist History podcast, but not to knit by, I’m afraid. Japanese embroidery is my main love, although knitting is pretty high on my list. I really enjoy your site.

  • Malcolm Gladwell? That made me chuckle this Saturday morning when the rest of the world is at Rhinebeck … My son had to read Gladwell in “Espository Writing” (what we called English Comp back in my day) and absolutely hated him. As a logical, science-minded student (and now grad student) he refuses to read anything by Gladwell — what really irritated him was the teacher in the class didn’t understand Gladwell, so every time Eldest tried to put forward a different argument, she marked him down … needless to say, it was a lesson in “write what they want, pass the class, and you don’t have to deal with this ever again.”

    I’ve gotten the NYer forever. Eldest can recite Asimov’s Robot Laws. The NYer had a piece, I believe, on how Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has been overused … was it by Gladwell? I should check.

    I’ll be home listening to Jonathon Schwartz, and dreaming of Rhinebeck.

    • It’s expository writing, not espository. (I have a degree in it.)

      • At least it didn’t autocorrect to suppository writing . . . ; )

      • … because I type too bloody fast, and can’t proofread my own writing. And, one day, I will have to turn off the damn autocorrect!

  • This was totally fascinating.

  • This is a fantastic podcast. Gladwell is genius and linking ideas and telling stories. Always thought-provoking and often moving. (PS Love your new house!)

  • Love his podcast, especially the series on higher education. He’s ruined me for college tours, though. Every time I hear about a school’s wonderful food options, I think “yeah, but what percentage of your students are on Pell Grants?”

    • Hi Amy,
      Just wondering about the meaning of your question regarding the percentage of students on Pell Grants at a college?

  • This is wonderful. Hallelujah is on my playlist 3 times, all different singers, all bring tears to my eyes.
    And now I might wonder whether someone is a ‘Picasso’ or a ‘Cezanne’…

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