Mr. Gladwell, Turn in Your Passport

I recently started listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Outliers: The Story of Success. I’ve enjoyed his other books, and a New Yorker Conference video on the same subject as this book, so I downloaded this one from Audible.

I’m not very far in, but I’m quite enjoying it. I do have one little complaint about a shocking mistake that Mr. Gladwell makes. He opens the book, to my bemusement, with a story about the Vancouver Giants and their recent Memorial Cup victory. Have a listen and see if you can spot the problem. That’s the author narrating:


“Third quarter”? “Third quarter”? Seriously, Malcolm. Surely you attended at least one or two hockey games while growing up in Elmira, Ontario. And maybe a young Malcolm glanced up from his McLuhan studies to avoid a wayward puck and note that a hockey game has three periods. Truth be told, he does correctly reference the “second period” in the previous sentence, so I expect it was just an oversight. Or an over-zealous sub-editor. But it set off my born-in-Canada alarm.

It’s an error they spotted and corrected in the current hard cover edition that’s on Amazon–I took a screenshot:

Page of Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers"

This got me wondering about the production process of the audio book. When do they record it? What is Mr. Gladwell reading from when he narrates the audio book? And when did they identify and correct this tiny yet egregious error?


  1. Audio books take a very long time to record, and scheduling the recording when the author is reading it him- or herself, especially when that author is as busy as Malcolm Gladwell, must be a bit of a nightmare. My guess is that he might have been reading from blueline or galley proofs (or an earlier draft) before the book itself was even printed, if the audio were to be ready simultaneously with the printed release.

    So whether the mistake was something he corrected at the blueline or earlier editing phase, it’s easy for it to have made it into the audio version. It’s even possible that he noticed it and corrected it during recording, but that the audiobook editors preferred the sound of the mistaken take and didn’t think the majority of their audience (non-Canadians) would care.

    Honestly, as someone who really doesn’t care about hockey even though I was born and raised in Vancouver and have lived here my whole life, I probably wouldn’t have noticed myself. The only hockey contest I’ve ever attended was a Vancouver Blazers game I was dragged to in the ’70s, which I hardly remember (even the third quarter). The only ones I’ve watched on TV were Olympic medal games (in the background while I was in the kitchen) and whatever happened to be on when my band was playing in bars during playoff season and we had to wait for them to finish before we began.

    We do exist, Canadians who aren’t hockey fans. Then again, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to write about hockey at all if I had a book to write.

  2. @Derek My indigence indignation is 95% mock, in truth. Still, I don’t follow professional bowling and I know it has ten frames, nor the NBA but I know they have four quarters. So–while I’m sure this was just an oversight–I think understanding ‘the way a game is divided up’ falls into the general knowledge category.

  3. If you were trying to continue your mock indignation (btw, I’m calling you out on the use of ‘indigence’ there), you should instead have used the examples of ringette (two periods) or curling (ten ends).

  4. Just to reinforce my point, I didn’t know how any of those games were divided. And I don’t understand anything about gridiron football except that they have touchdowns and there’s a half-time. But if I were to write a book with a key story about any of them, I’d be sure to find out, probably before I got around to recording the audio version!

  5. @Darren Ah! My undignified spelling! Or word choice! Or, I think, poorly selected word from spell check.

  6. You indigence (indecision?) aside, this made me laugh out loud, as a Minnesotan (sort of an honorary Canadian) and fan of Gladwell’s writing.

    I once had a colleague (in sales, nonetheless) send an email to a prospect apologizing for, and I quote, “the incontinence” – talk about a bad spell check choice. (He meant inconvenience, I assume).

    We shared that one with the whole company.

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