Blink – Malcolm Gladwell

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Blink explains our instinctive ability to make decisions without thinking about them. Using a series of examples the book analyses the way in which we are able to make critical, often life-saving actions without understanding why we are performing them.

I loved Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book The Tipping Point, but I don’t think Blink was quite as good. It had the same number of well researched examples, a large number of those interesting little facts that you find yourself sharing with friends, and the same light hearted, but scientific tone, but overall I felt this book was less useful.

The premise implies that we are all able to make split-second decisions, but reading the book revealed that most of us are likely to be wrong – the ability to make the right choice takes a lot of training.  One of the sections I found most interesting was about a marriage counsellor called John Gottman. He is able to predict whether a couple will still be together fifteen years from now, just by looking at a short film of them talking. John Gottman has worked out that couples who display the tiniest amount of contempt for each other are unlikely to stay together, so he watches for specific indications of contempt, ignoring how aggressive or friendly they appear to be. Other people fail to spot these signs, but once John Gottman has trained them they will be almost as good as him at predicting the success of a relationship.

The book gave many other examples of people who are able to make important decisions based on an instinct that they may not understand. Often concentrating on police officers or fire-fighters the analysis was fascinating, but not of much use to the average person.

Recommended to anyone who enjoys sociology books, but don’t expect it to change your life in any way.

Which is your favourite Gladwell book?

Can you recommend any other authors who write similar books?

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  1. Verity says:

    This sounds interesting – I like sociology books so will have to look out for this. Scary that they can predict whether people will still be together or not!

    1. Jackie says:

      Verity, I have been looking for the signs in the relationships of those I know. I’m not sure I’m good enough though – I think my preconceived ideas about the strenth of their relationships is getting in the way. Not sure I really want to know though!

  2. Sandy says:

    I really enjoyed Outliers, but that is the only book I’ve read from this author. The one thing that definitely comes through in his books are his insane genius. It would be fascinating to have dinner with this guy.

    On a different topic: no need to apologize for your opinions. As I said, expecting someone to love what I love is completely irrational! I know that you are fussy with your reads, and are extremely hard to please. When you DO like something, we can pretty much be assured that it is a fabulous book. Life would be boring if we all liked the same stuff, no?

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I agree – he would make a fantastic dinner guest! I loved Outliers too. His newest one is the only one I haven’t read now. He is an amazing guy – the way he looks at things from slightly different angles is fascinating.

      PS. Thanks for your understanding. Life would be boring if we all liked the same thing!

  3. Beth F says:

    I’ve heard a lot about Gladwell, but these really aren’t my kind of books. I’m mildly interested in the tidbits, but not in a whole book. I don’t know, just not my thing.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, It is a shame you aren’t near enough to pop round for dinner – I could fill you in on all the good bits!

  4. Annabel says:

    I too really enjoyed the Tipping Point – maybe more so because Blues Clues and Sesame Street which formed one big chapter were still in my mind from when my daughter was younger. I have Blink and Outliers in the TBR pile – I will look forward to reading them both.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I hadn’t watched those children’s programmes, but I can see how the interactivity has become a major part of my boys favourite programmes now. Fascinating books!

  5. Colleen says:

    I haven’t read any of Gladwell’s books – I worry they might be a little dry so I am considering listening to them.

    A friend recently gave me the book “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre – seems to be in the same category as Gladwell’s books. Apparently her writes a column by the same name in the Guardian in which he examines the errors in much of our “health/science journalism” and de-bunks popular myths. Its a short read.

    1. Jackie says:

      Colleen, I don’t think you can describe Gladwell’s books as dry. I’ve heard that his books work well on audio, but haven’t tried myself.

      I haven’t tried ‘Bad Science’, but have heard about it. I’ll keep an eye out for it.

      1. Annabel says:

        Bad Science is a very worthwhile read. You’ll get irritated by the author, but what he says is absolutely right in my book!

        1. Jackie says:

          Annabel, I’m not sure I want ot get irritated by an author, but am very intrigued now!

          1. Annabel says:

            Go on try it. The link to my review is here if you need convincing.

  6. Kari says:

    I really want to read What the Dog Saw. I like Gladwell in essay format. I got a review copy of it and passed it on to my boyfriend to read and review. But he is SO SLOW and has yet to get around to writing the review!

    1. Jackie says:

      Kari, I hope your boyfriend reads it quickly for you! I hope that it is as good as his past books.

  7. She says:

    I’ve heard so much about Blink from my psych classes. Everyone seems to love it, but I’ve never picked it up. It seems like an interesting topic especially that part about the marriage counselor!

    1. Jackie says:

      She, I’m not surprised that everyone in your class loves his books. I’m surprised they not on the syllabus! I hope you decide to pick one of his books up soon.

  8. I read Blink a number of years ago, and still remember the case study about the marriage counselor and the signs of contempt. It stood out to me as well. I remember feeling like the book got a little repetitious though.

    And I agree with you about the premise making it seem like it’s something we all do successfully, but actually it takes experience and training to make those ‘snap’ decisions.

    1. Jackie says:

      Christy, I did feel that there were too many mentions of police officers in the book. I know gun recognition is important to them, but I did get a bit tired of it.There were a lot of good bits though, so I still feel it is worth a read.

  9. veronica says:

    I’ve had this book on my TBR pile for a while. I really enjoyed “The Tipping Point” and keep meaning to get around to this one but I just haven’t yet. Maybe soon. Great review! :)

    1. Jackie says:

      veronica, If you liked Tipping Point then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one. Outliers is great too!

  10. I actually culled this book when I went through all my books at the weekend and am now having second thoughts about sending it to the charity shop as it does sound rather intriguing!

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, That always happens to me too! I am always reluctant to get rid of books for that very reason. I’m going to have to do it soon, but I am worried I’ll ditch a good one.

  11. Hmm, sounds interesting. Also noted that you loved Tipping Point. I haven’t read either, but a couple of bloggers did comment on my blog recently saying they weren’t big fans of Malcolm Gladwell, and didn’t rate Tipping Point that highly.

    Seems like I’ll just have to read it, and make up my own mind. :)

    Thanks for the review – confusing me is greatly appreciated! :) )

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, I’m surprised that people don’t like Gladwell – I thought he was pretty harmless. I have found all his books interesting. I think you will too!

  12. mee says:

    I’ve only read Outliers by Gladwell but I know I’m gonna read more of his books. They’re not exactly ground-breaking or very scientific, but they’re fun to go through, and you may get a few things along the way–just little interesting facts that you may not notice if someone else doesn’t point them out to you. I have Tipping Point and Blink on my shelf. I plan to get to one of them this year. I lean more towards Tipping Point though.

    1. Jackie says:

      mee, I agree that they aren’t very scientific in themselves, but I’m sure Gladwell has done a lot of research and could produce the evidence if requested. The fact he leaves out the facts and figures mean that it is more accessible to the population, but I agree – I would like a few more numbers sometimes.

  13. Jenners says:

    I’ve not read anything by this author but I think I ought to … I see his books mentioned everywhere! Perhaps I will start with “The Tipping Point” since you enjoyed it so much … or I think there is one called “Outliers” that sounds good.

    And I don’t know if “Freakonomics” is similar but I rather enjoyed that and it might be in the same genre.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I loved Freakonomics! It is similar, but Freakonomics contains more numbers. I think Outliers is a great place to start, but any of them are good. Enjoy!

  14. Jenny says:

    I enjoyed Blink the best of the two Gladwell books I’ve read so far – and Gladwell has a number of interesting columns on his website too. (Except this one that says unfriendly things about Atticus Finch. Snarl.) Like you say, interesting and not life-changing.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I haven’t seen his website. I’ll have to go and take a look – thank you for pointing it out!

  15. Violet says:

    I tried reading Blink once but couldn’t continue with it, I’m not into Sociology books at all.

    But the John Gottman book is on my Wishlist.

    1. Jackie says:

      Violet, Sorry to hear that you don’t enjoy these types of books.

      I’ll be interested to see your thoughts on the John Gottman book though. I hope it is good.

  16. Margot says:

    My son, who is in business for himself, just finished reading this book and handed it to me to read. He felt it had some useful ideas that he can use right now. I haven’t started it yet. I’ve made a note of your review so I can refer to it after I finish reading it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Margot, I’d be interested to know what your son is going to do after reading this book. I’ll keep an eye out for your review!

  17. Rebecca Reid says:

    It sounds good. I haven’t read any Gladwell, so maybe this isn’t the place to start but an interesting premise, that’s for sure!

    1. Jackie says:

      Rebecca, I’m not sure it matters which one you start with. They are all written in a very similar way and each contain a different assortment of interesting information. I hope you enjoy whichever one you decide to start with.

  18. I read Outliers this summer and thought it was fascinating. Am definitely looking forward to reading more from him. Though I suppose I also had some of your moments of “now what am I supposed to do with this information?” since the jist of it seemed to be that the most successful people have everything in place from a very young age that makes them be so successful! So maybe not all that inspiring.

  19. Stacy says:

    My husband referenced that marriage counselor yesterday, but he didn’t remember where he’d read/heard it. Now I can tell him :)

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