Skip to main content

Blink – Malcolm Gladwell ****

Malcolm Gladwell hit the big time with his previous book The Tipping Point. Now he’s done it again (though perhaps not to the same extent) with Blink. The premise of the book is very simple. We often make decisions very quickly – in a second or two. In some cases these decisions are good. In others they’re bad. And sometimes experts, after years of study, can become good at the ones the rest of us are bad at. Probably they do this by unconsciously selecting a small but significant part of the data we are presented with in any situation. That’s it. That’s the whole book, as far as significant content goes.
So how come it scores so highly? Because Gladwell does it so well. What makes the book are the stories, illustrating the different points. There’s no great wisdom here, nothing really new, but Gladwell’s presentation is so good that it’s an enjoyable book to read that feels as if it’s giving you something even when it does much. The stories that are used to illustrate the points are fresh and interesting, and that’s what makes all the difference. Oh, that and the fact that (like Tipping Point) it bucks the trend for ridiculously fat books that work better as doorstops than good reading (but seem to impress those who give out prizes – they must be good, they’re LONG). This book you can read on a rainy afternoon, and feel all the better for it.
There are a couple of omissions that are a shame. Gladwell doesn’t make enough about the fact, well known from creativity studies, that the assumptions we make get in the way of good instant decision making. It’s there in some of his examples, but not really brought out very well. We can train ourselves to watch out for assumptions and defuse them (this means slowing down, getting away from the instant, blink moment), but most of us plunge in with the assumptions.
The other, even more total omission is any reference to the fact that there are some types of decision we just aren’t programmed to handle, and which all of us are very bad at doing quickly. Most typical is any decision involving probability. Our brains just can’t cope with probability very well (this is why casinos and bookkeepers are so rich). If you have any doubts about this, check out the Ferraris & Goats problem, a snap decision that pretty well everyone gets wrong until they’ve applied lots of thought – even mathematical experts.
These omissions don’t get in the way of the fact this is a fun little book, driven largely by scientific research into the way we make quick decisions. Delightful reading.

Paperback:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you 
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Lucy Jane Santos - Four Way Interview

Lucy Jane Santos is an expert in the history of 20th century leisure, health and beauty, with a particular interest in (some might say obsession with) the cultural history of radioactivity. Writes & talks (a lot) about cocktails and radium. Her debut book Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium was published by Icon Books in July 2020.

Why science?

I have always been fascinated by the idea of science especially our daily interactions with and understandings of science – especially in a beauty context. I could spend hours pondering the labels of things on my bathroom shelf. What is 4-t-butylcyclohexanol (as a random example)? Do I really understand what I am putting on my face and spending my money on? Would it change my purchase habits if I did?  

Why this book?

This book came from an accidental discovery – that there was a product called Tho Radia which contained radium and thorium. I found out about it because I actually bought a pot of it – along with a big batch of other produc…

Pocket Einstein: 10 Short Lessons in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics - Peter Bentley ****

Another handsome little hardback in the '10 short lessons' format that manages to pack in a surprising amount of information. AI is a subject where it's easy to get carried away with enthusiasm for the wonders of the subject, so we end up with much marvelling about too little substance - a trait that has dogged the AI profession leading a couple of 'winters' where it over-promised and under-delivered. Thankfully, Peter Bentley largely avoids this trap. Although he is certainly broadly positive about the topic, he does make some of the shortcomings clear.

The book is genuinely interesting and carries the reader along with a light touch that never betrays the author's academic background - it is a heartfelt compliment that this is a book by a professor that feels like it was written by a science writer. We get a good mix of the history with a brief explanation of how the technology works and a broad exploration of applications, both what has already been achieved …

Rewilding: Paul Jepson and Cain Blythe ****

Those who are enthusiastic about saving the environment often have a mixed relationship with science. They might for example, support organic farming or oppose nuclear power, despite organics having no nutritional benefit and requiring far more land to be used to raise the same amount of crops, while nuclear is a green energy source that should be seen as an essential support to renewables. This same confusion can extend to the concept of rewilding, which is one reason that the subtitle of this book uses the word 'radical'.

As Paul Jepson and Cain Blythe make clear, though, radical change is what is required if we are to encourage ecological recovery. To begin with, we need to provide environments for nature that take in the big picture - thinking not just of individual nature reserves but, for example, of corridors that link areas allowing safe species migration. And we also need to move away from an arbitrary approach to restricting to 'native' species, as sometimes…