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Book Review - Blink
by Malcolm Gladwell
Little, Brown, 2005
Review by Michael Brodsky
May 6th 2005

A disclaimer: Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, and I am a big fan of his articles.  In the 6,000-10,000 word essays typical for that publication, Gladwell tackles an extraordinarily wide variety of topics and, with deft and fast-moving prose, explicates some small corner of the social universe in which human beings conduct their business.  Gladwell often examines aspects of individual and group psychology that influence the ways in which we perceive each other and our world.  A distinctive feature of a Gladwell article is that the author tends to draw large lessons from small details.  In one memorable article about L'Oreal cosmetics, Gladwell concluded with rather philosophical musings on the nature of beauty and society's obsession with youth. 

Gladwell's first book, The Tipping Point, became something of a cocktail-party sensation for what The New Yorker fondly deems "the chattering classes."  That book focused on the means by which commercial and social information are transmitted and disseminated across the nation and around the world.  Ironically, the book itself became something of a pop culture phenomenon when the hip-hop group Roots borrowed the title  for their highly-acclaimed multi-platinum album. 

Thus, it was with great excitement that I picked up a copy of Gladwell's second book, Blink¸ just released in hardback in January.  The book is subtitled "The Power of Thinking Without Thinking," and its stated purpose is to explore the split-second decision-making that distinguishes experts and connoisseurs from amateurs and novices.  Sometimes, instantaneous decisions come to us as a result of years of preparation or study.  At other times, these decisions occur because of apparently irrelevant information--for example, when a consumer chooses an alcoholic beverage on the basis of the label's design rather than the actual taste of the product.  Gladwell seeks to understand the ways that instantaneous decisions can be manipulated to shape purchasing decisions, among other choices.  Along the way, Gladwell explores what it means to be considered an expert in widely divergent fields, ranging from gastronomy to hip-hop music to police procedure to military strategy and so on. 

Articles in The New Yorker are often perceived as too wordy and dense for casual reading.  By contrast, Blink is written in a highly accessible, somewhat repetitive, and very engaging style--it is anti-dense by design.  Gladwell makes frequent and highly palatable allusions to previous chapters.  Along the way, Gladwell tosses in a healthy dose of anecdotes, asides, and factoids that do not advance the central ideas but nevertheless engage the reader.

In sum, then, Blink delivers exactly what fans of Malcolm Gladwell are looking for--a wide-ranging and thought-provoking meditation on the nature and implications of snap judgments.  To Gladwell's credit, the book does not read like an anthology of loosely-related magazine articles.  Rather, the author adapts to the book-length format with ease, while maintaining the fast-paced journalistic style that has made him a star journalist.  Blink is recommended wholeheartedly.


© 2005 Michael Brodsky

 Michael Brodsky is a psychiatrist in training in Los Angeles, California, and an avid reader.