This is a book you can't stop reading. It's also a book you can't stop talking about.
The secret of Gladwell's success is composed of two parts: firstly, he
employs a breezy, conversational writing style (Gladwell may be one of
few science writers (even pop-science writers) to unabashedly use the
words "I think" when expressing what is, after all, just an opinion);
then, he utilizes an assortment of anecdotes on subjects that are so
common and so familiar that you can't stop devouring one after the
other. No vague scientific data here.
One of Gladwell's case studies involves the disreputable launch of New
Coke - specifically, the defects in the Pepsi Challenge that allowed
the executives at Coke to accidentally believe Pepsi would overtake
their product as the number one soft drink in the world. While it's
true that Pepsi was severely trouncing Coke in nationwide taste tests
(even those made by the Coca-Cola company), Gladwell notes that the
Pepsi Challenge was based on faulty logic:
Tasters don't drink the whole can. They take a sip from a glassof each
of the brands being tested and then make their choice. Now suppose I
were to ask you to taste and test a soft drink a little differently.
What if you were to take a pack of the drink home and tell me what you
think after a few days? Would that change your opinion? Turns out it
Maybe the difference between sipping a cup of cola and drinking the
entire can doesn't excite you. You aren't alone. Some critics have
claimed that Blink isn't exactly revolutionary in its revelations ("Too
much of Blink reads like a longish string of features from the New
Yorker," said the San Francisco Chronicle for example).
These are reasonable charges, I suppose, but I think they miss the
thrust of Blink's appeal. The Pepsi Challenge story is an interesting
anecdote for those attuned to the new pulse of pop culture, but anyone
who doesn't remember the marketing catastrophe that was New Coke
(perhaps someone whose family didn't react in shock and outrage at the
time this product came out, as my family did) or doesn't feel it made a
continuing or important impact on society is likely to consider it
reasonably trivial. On the surface, Gladwell's thesis isn't nearly as extensive
as, for instance, Jared Diamond's Collapse, which has a big theme that
covers large periods of time and whole civilizations. From a viewpoint
of historical significance, the catastrophe of New Coke can't distantly
compare to the demise of Greenland or the Anasazi Indians.
Or can it? Gladwell uses intriguing case studies with a pop cultural
bent to illustrate universal truths about our psychology. (Not that
this entire book is a fun romp; Gladwell also thoroughly explores
the darker aspects of thin-slicing using examples as the brutal police
shooting of Amadou Diallo.) As Gladwell himself says, responding to the
aforementioned psychology student:"Some of these studies, in their
virgin form, are pretty dry. You have to be quite creative to find ways
to make them come alive. If that's what my talent is, I'm the happiest
man in the world."
Blink is fascinating and entertaining, not to mention quite brief,
which makes for a fast read - but it stays with you. Gladwell discusses
J. Gottman, a University of Washington professor who claims he can
thin-slice a married couple's chances of staying together by watching
a fifteen-minute video of their interaction. Gottman's
methodology and observations provide a fascinating insight into the
dynamics of the relationship, and since reading that I've been
measuring the relationship of every couple I know against it.
Few books can change your entire worldview or cause you to rethink
every action and response to the world around you. Not only can Blink
boast such a claim, but it does so in a engrossing, brisk,
unforgettable fashion. And it makes for great conversation at parties...