I usually don’t cluster books by the same author together (unless they are a series), and under normal circumstances I would have read Blink so soon after reading Outliers, but I picked the book up for a song and needed a short read during this past week while I was preparing to move.
In short, Blink is a mixed bag.
I’m not the first to observe that Gladwell’s writing tends toward the facile; however, this is pop psychology/sociology1, so it’s no surprise that Gladwell’s 320-page book about a particular psychological phenomenon is less a rigorous scholarly work and more of a Bill Nye the Science Guy for book-lovers. That it can be argued Gladwell talks about causation when there is merely correlation can be forgiven, I suppose, by how otherwise interesting his books are.
Blink is a book about instinct; specifically, it’s about the mind’s unconscious ability to draw immediate conclusions that defy conscious explanation. It’s also about the occasional failure of the mind to correctly react under stress: Gladwell’s notable illustration for this phenomenon is the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo. If you’re the sort who indicted the officers involved, you may not appreciate Gladwell’s treatment, which is quite sympathetic. Importantly, though, Gladwell cites other studies elsewhere in the book that not only (appear to) confirm a sort of latent racism in most people (himself included, and he’s half-black), and a tendency to associate black skin with violence.
If I were to level a criticism against Gladwell (apart from his slippery tendency to imply causation when it suits him), it would be that his tendency to jump from story to story (or to nest more or more stories within a story), tends to detract from the flow. He also has an irritating habit of trying to develop the people he references as characters. Even a casually mentioned scientist who only sticks around for two pages has to be prefaced with a description of his hair, build, and/or personality. It’s the sort of writing cliché that I would expect him to eschew at this point in his career.
Additionally, Blink did not feel nearly as coherent to me as Outliers, wherein Gladwell had a monolithic point2. Here, rather, he spends have the book arguing for something (it’s a little unclear), and then spends the next half arguing against it, and ends on an ambiguous story that doesn’t do a very good job of tying things up.
Eminently readable, to be sure, but certainly not Gladwell’s best book.
- Today I use this term in its nicest possible way[↩]
- to wit: really successfully people are often that way because of those who helped them along the way; if we strove to give everyone that chance, instead of segmenting out only those who we think are the talented ones, we might have a lot more successful people[↩]