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