Battlepanda: Monday Book Blogging: The Tipping Point


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Monday Book Blogging: The Tipping Point

In his review of "Blink", Matt Singer described Malcolm Gladwell's MO (or "trick", as Matt puts it) as...
Find an interesting concept (this time it is how effective snap decisions can be compared to information-heavy analysis) and tell a dozen decent stories to ram the point home.
I find that a very apt description, but I would reverse the order in which Matt puts it. Malcolm Gladwell's particular genius, I think, is his ability to take a dozen fascinating but unrelated stories and construct a plausable and compelling theme to "hang" those stories on. He is very good at this, in the same way that a magician is very good at pulling rabbits out of hats. If he really want to be completely unvarnished about it, he could just call his books "101 counterintuitive stories" and "Another 101 counterintuitive stories" (And perhaps Levitt and Dubner should call their book "101 counterintuitive stories: Economics edition"). But what would be the fun in that?

Like all magic tricks, believing in the literal validity of what is happening before you is not a pre-requisite to enjoyment. After reading The Tipping Point, for instance, I don't think I've really taken what Gladwell said about Mavens and Connectors to heart, beyond a very generalized impression that better connected people wield more influence when it comes to word of mouth (duh!). And the pinch of salt I was taking with his book was increased to a quarter teaspoon after he raved about the 'broken window' theory, the validity of which is a lot less settled than Gladwell seems to think.

So, in the final analysis, would I recommend The Tipping Point? Yes, if you're in the mood for a fun and easy read. But Blink, by the same author, is even better. The concept in Blink, is, if anything, even more tenuous than in The Tipping Point. But in my book, that's a good thing as it made it read a little less like a glib business book.