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December 11, 2021
Full disclosure: I am a huge Paul Simon fan. Huge. There is a good chance I teared up the first time I saw him live. Love him.
But I do not think you need to feel this way to enjoy Malcolm Gladwell’s new audio (only) book Miracle and Wonder. You definitely need to be able to tolerate Simon’s songs; bits of his songs are played throughout, sometimes live and sometimes the recorded tracks.
Gladwell starts the book off by informing his listeners- this is not an autobiography of Paul Simon, rather this is a look at his music and what makes him a great songwriter. This book will not talk about Simon’s falling out with Garfunkel, his marriage to Edie Brickell or his childhood. Though each is mentioned, it is only in service to understanding Simon as a musician.
What makes this book so fun, so interesting, is Gladwell’s storytelling. Another disclosure, more of a confession: I have never finished a Gladwell book. I typically make it halfway through and then feel like I got his message. I am sure this is untrue; I am just not a non-fiction lover. But despite having never finished a book of his, I have always marveled at his extensive research, how he does not only research the topic, but topics adjacent to his topic. How he weaves all this research together into a fascinating narrative to prove a point. He is a fantastic writer.
And Miracle and Wonder is no different. Gladwell, in his journey to discover the birth of Simon’s greatness, references greats of other disciplines, including LeBron James. This part of Gladwell's writing reminds me of Krakauer’s Into the Wild. As a way to understand why Chris McCandless gave up everything and went into the wilderness, Krakauer looks through history to find others who did the same or similar things. Gladwell does this as well.
But it is not only the research that makes the book great. Paul Simon is there with him for the whole book, so we hear snippets of their conversation. This creates a very intimate experience for the reader, not just with Paul Simon, but also with Gladwell because we get to see him in action. There are times when after hearing Paul Simon discuss a song or a memory, Gladwell analyzes those words, tying them back to what Simon has said previously. We really get to see Gladwell’s process and how he comes to his conclusion about Simon’s greatness.
You do not have to love Paul Simon to enjoy this book. Music lovers, Gladwell readers, authors and anyone looking to be inspired can find enjoyment within this book. And no matter who you are, you will likely come out on the other side of this book with a greater appreciation for Paul Simon, and Gladwell.
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