Journalist Malcolm Gladwell has made a career taking on big, complicated topics and humanizing them to make the unwieldy understandable. He has already done this in bestsellers like The Tipping Point and Outliers, and now he has brought the same approach to automotive recalls in a long piece for The New Yorker.

The article titled The Engineer's Lament is framed around an interview with the former head of Ford's recall office about the famous Ford Pinto campaign where the position of the compact's fuel tank could cause it to explode in rear-end collisions. Plus, there are detours into Toyota's unintended acceleration cases and the General Motors ignition switch problem. While all the history is illuminating, the heart of the story comes from an examination at the thought process of engineers, and how their thinking differs from other professions.

Gladwell comes off as sympathetic to auto engineers in this piece. While he admits that they often approach problems in a sterile way, the writer doesn't try point that out as a failing. It's merely a fact to be understood. The story itself is quite lengthy, but well worth a read if you have the time for an insiders view into how these recalls are assessed on the inside.

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