Blink by Malcom Gladwell


Goodreads: Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking
Series: None
Source: Borrowed
Published: August 7, 2001

Official Summary

In his landmark bestseller The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell redefined how we understand the world around us. Now, in Blink, he revolutionizes the way we understand the world within. Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant–in the blink of an eye–that actually aren’t as simple as they seem. Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up stumbling into error? How do our brains really work-in the office, in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others?

In Blink we meet the psychologist who has learned to predict whether a marriage will last, based on a few minutes of observing a couple; the tennis coach who knows when a player will double-fault before the racket even makes contact with the ball; the antiquities experts who recognize a fake at a glance. Here, too, are great failures of “blink”: the election of Warren Harding; “New Coke”; and the shooting of Amadou Diallo by police. Blink reveals that great decision makers aren’t those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of “thin-slicing”–filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.


Blink attempts to explain to readers what happens in first impressions–how we create the thoughts we have the instant we see, or taste, or hear something matter and whether we should give them much weight while making decisions. The book is interesting in a pop-science way that many readers will be familiar with, citing studies disguised as anecdotes and clearly signalling to readers when they should be astonished or impressed. It suffers from the same drawbacks as much pop-science, as well, glossing over the details of the science and refusing to give concrete answers about what readers are supposed to do with the information they have learned.

For readers in the right mood, Blink is really quite fun and fascinating. Gladwell has found a lot of stories to tell about how people form split-second impressions and make decisions. He has interviewed everyone from military commanders to scientists conducting research on minute facial expressions. He has found people who study how likely a couple’s marriage is to succeed and people who can make you buy a product half-based on the look of the packaging. The stories he shares are incredibly interesting and entertaining.

The problems come when readers start asking what they’re supposed to do with the stories. Like many writers of pop-science, Gladwell intentionally steers away from trying to make his research applicable in any way, as if trying to actually use scientific research will push his book along the genre spectrum towards “less serious” self-help and away from “serious” academic work. He waits until the epilogue of the book to even attempt to answer questions about how people should use his research, and then he frames it in the sense of “Well, people ask me this all the time so I guess I’ll throw something out,” as if he’s somehow surprised people want to know whether they should trust their gut instincts and he doesn’t consider the point important at all.

The answer he finally gives is wishy-washy, which is honestly to be expected. Blink is also like many pop-science books in that if you take away the fun stories, the base points of the book are fairly simple. The main ideas of the research could be summarized in a single paragraph: Out first impressions are often very good. Experts in a field have the most reliable gut instincts because they have extensive training in an area. Attempting to explain or parse out why you feel the way you do in a single moment can confuse you, particularly if you are not an expert. The end.

So while Blink is definitely entertaining, and there is a bit of science to be parsed out for those who are interested, it’s definitely pop-science all the way. There’s no really broader point than saying: Look how interesting this all is! Look at examples where it has happened. Readers expecting to just find out some new things about the world will be pleased. Readers expecting clear science and applicable research will be disappointed.


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