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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005. ISBN: 0-316-17232-4

This is current pop psychology at its best, I suppose. A book whose ideas are so compelling, so new somehow, that it is propelled onto the best-seller lists. I'm not generally a fan of the genre, which at best is only a step above self-help books, in my jaundiced view, but seeing this book, and its predecessor, The Tipping Point, both appearing on many top ten lists for a considerable period, finally piqued my interest to the point of requesting a copy from my local library.

The book is entertaining enough to make it fairly easy going, I will give you that. Gladwell uses stories to make his points, and the stories are interesting enough to keep you motivated enough to keep turning the pages. But I found Gladwell's style somewhat patronizing, and slightly annoying. I suppose that's why I'm not a fan of self-help and pop psychology books to begin with.

One aspect that specifically annoyed me was the author's circular style of writing. He tells a story, then circles around it again and again in a kind of spiraling fashion, all the while spinning out more tales. I suppose this method suits his purpose well, but I found it somewhat distracting. Rather than wringing all of the relevant meaning out of an event immediately, he keeps circling back to it again and again, from various angles and directions.

In the end, the lesson seems to be (as stated on page 14) “decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.” Persuading us of this, the author states, “is the first task of Blink.” But this type of instant gestalt thinking is not infallible. Gladwell goes on (page 15): “So, when should we trust our instincts, and when should we be wary of them? Answering that question is the second task of Blink.”

Unfortunately, so far as I'm concerned, while he does fairly well at the first task, he doesn't really do a convincing job of the latter. If there is a clear rationale presented for when one should be wary, it didn't stick with me, and I can't really find it stated in a straightforward manner. Some traps to avoid are outlined. But no easy to apply formula is presented. Life, thinking, the brain, the unconscious: those are still things too complicated to boil down to simple, easy-to-apply formulas, I guess. And I'm not sure Gladwell has done our society any favors by essentially empowering people to make more snap judgments.

Recommended for the curious, and the pop psychology fan.

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