Book Review: Blink

41lrqaehkbl“Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell

2017 Reading Challenge — Book 19: A self-improvement book

I’m really torn on how to review this book. On the one hand, I found it an enjoyable read, full of fascinating anecdotes and interesting observations. On the other hand, I had hoped—based on its subtitle—the book would provide insight into how to increase in my ability to “think without thinking.” Perhaps it’s my fault for expecting something the author never really claims the book offers, or perhaps it’s because I listened to an audiobook version of the book (which doesn’t allow me to interact with the book in the margins), but I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed at the end.

That said, I do find the concept of “thin-slicing” to be quite intriguing. Quickly drawing accurate conclusions based on limited data is a skill I try to cultivate. And so it was with great interest that I listened to many stories about times when people have been able to do just that. Of particular relevance to me was Gladwell’s exploration of the work of John Gottman, a renowned psychologist and therapist who specializes in relationship counseling. Gottman used thin-slicing to build a model with which he predict the long-term stability of a marriage after only a few minutes of observing a newly married couple. Skills like that have obvious applicability in the ministry, as in most walks of life.

But there are also inherent dangers in making snap judgments, something to which Gladwell devotes half the book. More often than not, decisions made quickly are decisions made rashly, and can lead to disastrous consequences. This point is made most poignantly in the recounting of the death of a man named Amadou Diallo, who was shot 41 times by police officers who believed him to be armed, dangerous, and pulling a gun on them. In reality, he was unarmed and terrified.

Most decisions we make are not literally life & death choices, but the point remains that “go with your gut” is rarely wise counsel. Gladwell offers many insights into the reasons that our gut instincts can be deceived, though again, this is accomplished through story-telling, without necessarily arriving at much of a “take away” for those seeking personal improvement.

Of course, that storytelling is quite engaging, and in this regard the audiobook (read by the author) particularly shines. If you approach this book from a standpoint of learning from a gifted researcher and storyteller, rather than as a “self-improvement” book, you’re likely to be quite satisfied with Blink. Grab your copy here.

Book Review: Outliers

“Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell

In a statistical sample, data points that deviate greatly from the norm are called “outliers”. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, he looks at people who are statistical outliers; those who do things that are out of the ordinary. What is it about some people that makes them truly stand out? Why are some extremely successful when others are not?

First and foremost, Gladwell is a story teller. Few people could make so much statistical analysis into a page-turner, but he has succeeded! The individual stories told in the book are fascinating, but the way he weaves them all together into one larger “story of success” is truly amazing.

In the end, readers discover that real success is the result of much more (but definitely not less) than intelligence and ambition. Our cultural legacy (extending back several generations) also plays a large role, as do many seemingly random occurrences that are out of our control, such as one’s place and time of birth.

The entire book was good, but of particular interest to me were “The 10,000 Hour Rule” and the section speaking about the parenting method known as “concerted cultivation”. Both of these are especially relevant to my field of music education, as they are among the more controllable factors mentioned in the book that can lead to excellence in music (among many other things).

I highly recommend this book for all readers. It’s one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time, and gave me a lot to think about. If you’re looking for a book that will tell you exactly how to become a wildly successful statistical outlier, this is not it, but it will help you see yourself and the world around you differently. Buy it here.