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March 07, 2005

Gladwell review

As I mentioned a few days ago, I spent Saturday night watching Malcolm Gladwell read from his new book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. The reading was at The Hammer, a terrific museum just blocks from my house. He packed it. Their 250 person auditorium became standing room only and, when that ran out, overflow seating was set up near speakers outside.

Gladwell's an effective, entertaining speaker. He's a short, slight guy with a rapidly-receding hairline and an enormous afro. He's clearly comfortable on the stage, and he needed no notes nor, in fact, any books. Rather than read from Blink, he told stories from it.

And that was the problem. See, Blink does not seem to be about rapid cognition at all. A better name foor the book would be Overload: How Too Much Information Clouds Our Conclusions, or Bias: How the Wrong Information Perverts our Conclusions. I guess those titles didn't focus group as well, but Gladwell didn't change the content along with the name. As it was, every story he told had to do with the elimination or addition of information. Classical musicians are better off auditioning behind a screen, Diallo's shooters should have slowed down and amassed more information, doctors are best able to diagnose chest pain when limited to the results of four tests, etc. And that's all well and good, but if any of you could think of a more basic, common-sense thesis to pack a bestseller with, I'd be pretty impressed. So while Gladwell was enjoyable, my gut, or blink, reaction to his book was right, and I won't be buying it. That's okay, from the looks of the auditorium, Gladwell hardly needs me to add on to his sales.

March 7, 2005 in Books | Permalink

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Comments

You'll have to google for it, but read Richard Posner's gutting of Gladwell in TNR. Wonderful stuff. I read the book way back last fall, but as I recall it seemed valuable only insofar as it offered a bunch of nifty anecdotes I could use to impress girls at bars.

(And no, it hasn't worked yet, but one of these days...)

Posted by: Brad Plumer | Mar 7, 2005 2:05:27 PM

I read the first half of Blink last Sunday afternoon and I agree that a change in subtitle would have been appropriate. The book has thus far told some entertaining stories, but I'm having trouble drawing any conclusions from it. In some anecdotes, "blink" decisions save the day, but in others instantaneous decisions are revealed to be the product of some pretty horrible biases. In that light, the book offers readers another reason to second-guess their decisions, which is the opposite of what I expected.

As for pick-up lines, I'm thinking "Hey baby, wanna blow this dump and take a Gottmann test?" would really score.

Posted by: informis | Mar 7, 2005 5:14:33 PM

sir, that's why people build libraries -- so you can more or less read the book without buying it, then decide if you want to pay for the hardback or wait for the paperback.

support your local library. please.

and i'm not a librarian, either -- just a guy who has read a lot.

Posted by: harry near indy | Mar 7, 2005 10:23:57 PM

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 15, 2007 5:37:43 AM

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