Review: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I bought this book on an impulse: exactly what its author talks about. And regretted said impulse, almost immediately. This is little more than a journalist’s bag of anecdotes, stories, and select psychological research findings.

“Thin-slicing.” Gladwell makes a big deal of it, asserting decisions made from first impressions, quick evaluations, can be more accurate than rigorous and thorough investigations. Except, in his opinion, when it goes wrong. Huh? What?

Sure, puffer fish, thin-sliced, can be a delicacy. Slice it just a bit thicker, and visits to the morgue and lawsuits follow.

This work is little more than a hodge-podge of ideas, experiments, and results built around traditional wisdom and its contemporary counterpart, “Less is more.” Personally, I’d flipped its pages and come across this example included: A father and son involved in a serious accident, taken to a hospital, where the doctor looks at them and cries “This is my son!” What is the doctor’s relationship to the accident victim? Gladwell wrote that this isn’t a situation amenable to ‘systematic thought,’ but is one where the answer just pops into the mind without rigorous thinking. I disagreed, worked out the answer (and its possible contemporary variants) in a few seconds, and posed the puzzle to the shopkeeper who had this book on sale for a couple of dollars. He struggled with it, while another patron, passing by, said: “I know the answer. Won’t tell you, but you’ll work it out…” To save the shopkeeper from embarrassment, I worked the answer out, systematically, with him: two individuals, both parents, one a father…

I thought Gladwell wholly wrong in his claim, about the example above, and the incident at the shop supported that, but such puzzles interest me and I bought the book. But, as indicated earlier in the review, I had misgivings about the book and came to regret buying it. Suffice it to say when Gladwell started talking about an American Presidency determined by his theory of “thin-slicing,” I’d had enough and couldn’t continue further.

Instinct and intuition, first impressions, and concepts such as ‘less is more,’ are useful just where they are applicable. That can hardly be said to prove decisions made with rapidity and less ‘consciously registered’ information can be more reliable than those arrived at rigorously, systematically. I think Gladwell builds a case where there is none to be built.

A book for entertainment value, but not for any substantive learning.

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About Rian Nejar

Rian Nejar is an Indian-American author. He trained and worked as an engineer in India, lived briefly in the Middle East, and arrived in America in the early 90's. After a Master’s degree in electrical engineering in America, he worked as an academic instructor, engineer, entrepreneur, and technical writer over the two decades since. Humbling and Humility is the first heartfelt written expression of his varied life experiences. He lives and writes in the Southwest United States.
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