And now I can confidently agree, it’s great. But why is it so great?
Here’s my theory:
- It’s a first person narrative — and not tentatively so. There are I’s everywhere in this piece, and it’s wonderful.
New rule: The more abstract and complex the subject matter, the more important it is to anchor it to an identifiable human point-of-view.
- The use of place in this piece is also really important. Yes, the piece focuses on different health-care costs in different parts of the country, so it makes sense. But, even absent that connection, I think anchoring ideas to places is generally a good idea. Think of a memory palace. Our brains have super-powerful circuitry for thinking about and remembering places, and when you connect ideas to places (even imaginary places) you co-opt some of that power. It’s like a computer scientist finding a way to do a calculation on the GPU to take advantage of that crazy speed and parallelism.
New idea: Use place in narrative as a hack to engage the 3D-sensing-mapping brain.
- It’s a hero’s quest. Really! In this piece, Atul Gawande is Luke Skywalker leaving Tatooine. Frodo going to Mordor. He has an urgent quest (to solve this health-care puzzle); he enters new, unexplored territory (McAllen, Texas); he meets friends and foes along the way. It’s Joseph Campbell meets Peter Orszag. Near the two-thirds mark he literally mentions flying home; that’s important. It gives the piece a familiar, satisfying arc.
New venture: Policy think-tank co-founded by George Lucas and Peter Jackson?
So there you go.