Saturday, January 2, 2010

Books: Malcolm Gladwell - The Tipping Point (2000) and Blink (2005)

Malcolm Gladwell is a journalist working for The New Yorker and he has the great talent of unearthing and tracking down unseen forces that have a big influence on our daily lives. A very useful skill for a journalist. Gladwell then transformed into a sort of pop sociologist after he started to bundle his articles into books. Very succesful books, I might add; number one international bestsellers and so on and so forth.

The Tipping Point (2000) is the story about hypes. Why do certain brands have sudden succes and other don’t? Why became Sesame Street so well-known? Why did the 80s crime epidemic of New York suddenly stop? Why is it so hard to stop teenage smoking? The Tipping Point is about that crucial moment in which the momentum of change passes a threshold and cannot be stopped. According to Gladwell, ideas and messages are contagious like a virus and spread or die out.

Gladwell talks to lots of social scientists, psychologists and specialists from all sorts of branches of research, but also to CEOs and advertisers and brings all his findings together to present a sort of rulebook on social epidemics. But his story is never boring; he presents every chapter with case studies and examples out of our daily lives. Gladwell’s books, both The Tipping Point and the next one, Blink, overflow with interesting examples and fascinating people.

Blink (2005) is also about the social effects of a psychological phenomenon. This time he dives into the mysterious world of the subconscious. How does our subconscious influence our judgement, and, just as important, how can we influence the subconscious of others? Gladwell shows that it happens all around us and our free will is not as free as we think it is.

Gladwell’s books are immensely popular and not without controversy. They make great coffeetable conversation and are passed on from person to person. And while the correlations he makes are a bit pseudoscientific now and then, he opens our minds to real and unseen worlds so we can understand these times just a little bit better.

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