Book Review: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell


Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2004) is Malcolm Gladwell‘s psychological and sociological investigation into the human ability to make quick decisions.  This power – which he calls thin-slicing – can be both advantageous and dangerous.  For good or for ill, Gladwell contends that we humans make snap judgments all the time and this book is way of becoming conscious of this quick process.

While I find some of Gladwell’s conclusions hard to swallow, I do enjoy many of his stories and anecdotes.  Examples of what stands out in my memory include:

  • The Warren Harding problem – totally unqualified candidate becomes President because he looks “presidential” to many voters
  • Coca Cola executives changed the formula of Coke because it was losing in blind sip tests to Pepsi, but it turns out that sip tests are a poor judge of the full sensory experience of drinking an entire serving of Coke from the famous bottles or its red cans.
  • Consumers often hate new products because they are unfamiliar (examples include the Aeron chair and All in the Family) and thus it can be tricky to make judgments on a product from consumer testing
  • Project Implicit is a test which shows the associations positive and negative that are made of people due to their race.  (I took a test and got the result  “Your data suggest no difference in your automatic preferences for White people vs. Black people” of which I feel rather sanctimonious about).
  • In improvisational theater, improvisation arises entirely out of how steadfastly the participants adhere to the rule that no suggestion can be denied
  • Comparisons between autistic people and the overstimulated brain of a police officer in hot pursuit of a suspect both lack the ability to interpret facial and behavioral cues.  Gladwell takes us into the failures of judgment that led to the killing of Amadou Diallo and how officers following proper police procedures can protect themselves from this “temporary autism.”

All in all this was an interesting book, definitely entertaining to listen to while working on mundane tasks.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. Hachette Audio (2005), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD

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