Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown), 279 pages, $37.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Malcolm Gladwell's blink makes a great first impression. Which is fitting, because that's what it's all about.
The New Yorker mag staffer and author of acclaimed The Tipping Point focuses on people's snap judgments.
How can an art expert tell - all scientific evidence aside - that a statue is a fake?
How can a man watch a couple talk for 15 minutes and predict with 95 per cent accuracy whether they'll be together in 15 years?
How can a bunch of police in the Bronx shoot and kill an innocent black man?
Through stories within stories and lots of scientific examples, Gladwell demonstrates the power of the unconscious, or as he calls it in his book's subtitle, "the power of thinking without thinking."
Gladwell's stories can seem initially trivial. In a look at Madison Avenue's failure with New Coke, he shows us why, for instance, we might choose one brand of cola over another, even though our taste buds tell us otherwise. Obvious, no?
But Gladwell uses this story about the power of branding and image-making to illustrate a more fascinating one about the marketing of a rock singer named Kenna. All music industry experts feel he's the next big thing, even though radio stations and test groups don't like him. Sometimes, especially with something cutting-edge, our first impressions might be wrong. We don't understand the new. Leave it to the experts.
Yet often the so-called experts can do too much thinking. One of Gladwell's most telling stories concerns an upstart doctor who worked at Chicago's Cook County Hospital's trauma centre, the inspiration for the TV show ER.
Faced with limited resources, he found a way - using only a handful of data - to predict with 95 per cent accuracy whether incoming patients were suffering from heart attacks. His technique proved cheaper, less time-consuming and more accurate than the previous method, which required a battery of tests. Too much information can mislead you.
The practical applications of the book are immense, as the sections about malpractice suits, police violence and blind musical auditions illustrate. When an expert points out the four subtle communication patterns that show if a relationship is in trouble, it forces you to look at yourself.
Sure, Gladwell often wraps up his arguments too tidily, and his storytelling style can become formulaic, but he's writing a book for a general audience. If you're looking for more depth, consult the bibliography.
The only element that gives pause is the price tag. Thirty-eight dollars for a slim book with big type and no glossy illustrations? Now, that makes you blink.
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