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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Blink — Book Review

Blink, Malcolm Gladwell’s follow-up to The Tipping Point, studies instinctual reaction. At times a fascinating look at what many call gut reactions, the book offers plenty of antidotal and scientific evidence suggesting that paying attention to our first impressions makes a lot of sense. Much like its predecessor, though, the text can get bogged down in minutiae.

Gladwell analyzes everything from speed-dating to war games to the failed attempt of the J. Paul Getty Museum to authenticate a kouros it ended up paying millions for to illustrate the value of the thoughts that come to us in the blink of an eye. The detailed examples are often compelling, and certainly on point, but for me Gladwell’s analysis almost always dragged on too long.

The best example for my criticism, and the only example Gladwell offered which really made me doubt his suggestions, was a marriage counselor that predicted to a high degree of accuracy (based on divorce rates) the compatibility of married couples after observing short, inconsequential conversations between them. There were plenty of interesting tidbits — how a positive remark can actually display negativity — but I didn’t buy the premise. Watching the conversation frame by frame on video or analyzing levels of palm sweat doesn’t seem like worthwhile analysis of a relationship, and reading about such analysis certainly wasn’t enjoyable.

Other examples started out as very compelling reading, though eventually wandered into eye-drooping analysis. Looking at why “New Coke” failed and the flaws of taste-test results offers plenty to get the reader thinking. But by the time the exact details are waded through, few readers are still going to be interested.

The shooting of Amadou Diallo offered plenty of insight into how we react to each other and in high-stress situations. Gladwell even examines the feeling that our mind actually slows down time for us to allow for things to be processed mentally. This was a rare example in which the author avoided over analyzing the situation.

Blink is definitely worth reading, but may be a challenge for some to get through.

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