Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Published: 2005
Website: Amazon page

Malcolm Gladw’s Blink is mainly a very well written review of the science and evidence behind thin-slicing and its effect on everyday life (in Blink, thin-slicing describes “the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience”). Gladwell takes his audience through numerous real-life examples ranging from police shootings to screened-off musical auditions in order to convey to the reader the scope of thin-slicing’s effect on each person’s everyday actions. But Blink lacks a goal. Gladwell’s expository style makes his detailed descriptions extremely engaging as he offers the reader ways to impress friends and family with various new scientific factoids (my favorite being that researchers can now predict with 90% certainty whether a couple will get divorced by analyzing a fifteen minute conversation between the two spouses). Unfortunately Gladwell’s writing style makes it quite easy to finish the book without having digested any thesis, claim, or main point. The closest Blink got to convincing me of anything was when Gladwell described ways in which research about snap judgments was affecting current practice in law enforcement, therapy, and symphony auditions; but even then, Gladwell was merely explaining the ways that these three ideas have evolved due to new research and not actually making a claim besides for in his equivocating final chapter where he proposes that snap judgments are sometimes good and sometimes bad.

I thoroughly enjoyed the result of Gladwell’s journalistic background as he described interviews and informal discussions with experts in psychology, food-science, anthropology, and marketing (all of which are fields related to thin-slicing). But unfortunately every time one of Gladwell’s threads of thought had reached its conclusion I kept deciding that I was approaching the end of an entertaining magazine article describing a new scientific study. Blink was pretty much a series of fifteen New Yorker articles held together by Gladwell’s sudden interest in quick-thinking and not actually a revolutionary way to “understand the world within” as the back cover proudly proclaims.


One Comment to “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”

  1. I pretty much completely agree with your assessment; the New Yorker description is quite apt. It also always strikes me that Gladwell thinks he’s putting forth such radical ideas, but the notion that first impressions (broadly defined) matter isn’t particularly controversial. He’s overhyped and self-sensationalizing. That said, also quite entertaining.
    – Chana

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