Book Review: Blink

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We have, as human begins, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell

I’ve always been more interested in reading fiction than non-fiction. Since I was in grade school, I’ve associated non-fiction with hardcover books with dry prose describing volcanoes and prehistoric animals. I loved volcanoes and prehistoric creatures as much as the next kid, but the dryness of these encyclopedic volumes turned me off non-fiction. Since then, I’ve tried to embrace reading more non-fiction. Last summer, I picked up Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point at my local Chapters, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The use of storytelling wasn’t something I’d encountered before in non-fiction.

That being said, I was surprised at the number of negative reviews I found of The Tipping Point, and of Gladwell’s other books, online. Most of the negative reviews maintained that Gladwell manipulated cases to support his thesis, and that his overall argument was weak.

To be honest, these weren’t things I really noticed about the book. I mainly enjoyed the book because it presented a variety of interesting studies and situations that I hadn’t otherwise heard of. I didn’t completely buy Gladwell’s argument, and the book didn’t immediately alter the way I saw the world. As with most authors, I took Gladwell’s ideas with a grain of salt.

Compared to The Tipping Point, I found Blink a weaker book overall. There were fewer examples, and the examples used seemed less interesting. They were less relatable. There were fewer connections between them. And although I know that the book revolves around the idea of first impressions, there were just a few too many examples regarding racial stereotypes, with the examples about racial stereotypes always revolving around the perceived inferiority of black people versus white people. It honestly made me uncomfortable.

What did I learn from Blink? In the end, I’m not sure. The arguments were a bit muddled. Some of the psychological studies I found fascinating. I was especially interested in the study where a researcher breaks down the facial expressions of a married couple during a semi-serious conversation and is able to accurately predict whether the couple will stay together or get divorced.

But some of the central scenarios in Blink were utterly uncompelling, at least to me. The story of Paul Van Riper and his use of intuition, as opposed to analysis, in the Millennium Challenge was especially drawn out, with an unnecessarily long description of the circumstances.

The book is comprised of scenarios where analysis is necessary, and others where intuition trumps all. The general message of the book seems to be that it’s all dependent on context. Which, to be honest, I think I could have realized without the book.

YES OR NO?: NO. I wish I read this in one sitting. I read it over several days, in spurts, and it was difficult to immerse myself in Gladwell’s argument over and over again, which led to it being less believable. The Tipping Point is full of more compelling ideas and more interesting scenarios.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Blink

  1. Gladwell’s books cover interesting topics but has it’s ups and downs. My reaction was similar when I read Outlier. After a while, I got worn down by the structure of the book but I did enjoy learning about its topic. Some of the connections Gladwell made seemed like a stretch so yea, a grain of salt.

  2. I remember reading Blink years ago, finishing it and thinking “well, just another book” and continuing with my day. Sometimes it’s difficult to discern real knowledge from simple conjecture, and as you imply in your post, I wondered if Gladwell had this hypothesis about intuition in mind and was convinced that it was true and amazing and magical before seeing any evidence in favor of it. He then selected some studies that would “prove” his hypothesis and published the book. Of course, this is only my humble impression 🙂

    1. Thank you for stopping by! Yes, I also got that feeling when I was reading. But I suppose we are all guilty of that to some extent 🙂

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