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Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Casual Critic — Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point

Reviewing Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point is a bit intimidating, I must admit. It was a rare foray into nonfiction reading for me, and, as Gladwell’s new Afterword makes clear, it is intended as an instructive how-to on "tipping" (essentially having something become wide spread) your own ideas.

This book is extremely interesting even if you’re not looking to "tip" anything. It offers insights into psychology, history, pop culture, and group dynamics, just to name a few subjects covered in absorbing, readable language. Gladwell takes the model of epidemics such as the flu or AIDS, and explains how it can be (and has been) used to create fashion trends, popularity for products, turn little known authors into best-sellers, and even reverse the crime rate.

Gladwell looks at how Hush Puppies became cool, the incredible success of Sesame Street and Blues Clues, the impact cleaner subways had on the New York City crime rate, and even the reasons Paul Revere went down in history while no one's ever heard of William Dawes. (Dawes covered the southern areas of Lexington as Revere headed north with the famous warning that "the British are coming.") The examples are meant to illustrate the book’s subtitle "How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference," and, to a point, they do.

The new Afterword does a good job of relieving the only real problem the book may have — the supposed usefulness to someone looking to tip their own idea, product, etc. Admittedly, this is where my intimidation factor kicks in. Gladwell seems to take examples of rather brilliant ideas or incredibly innovative individuals to illustrate how things tip. He even describes the special kind of people it takes to tip an idea — connectors, mavens, and salesmen. I’m still not sure the problem is solved — these people are considered extraordinary for a reason — but it’s a book I’ll almost certainly be thinking about for a long time whenever the entreprenuerial juices we all have kick in.

Gladwell does reach a little too far sometimes, and tends to inundate the reader with studies supporting his ideas. However, those minor flaws do little to hurt the book. If you’re into this type of subject matter at all, or just looking for something to stir your mind, The Tipping Point is worth reading.


  1. Try "Blink." It was a very interesting read.

  2. Try "BLINK." It was great.


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