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Tipping towards a recommendation

In Arts on March 4, 2011 at 7:29 am

The Tipping Point book review

Through his books, (Blink, What the Dog Saw) and columns in the New Yorker magazine, Malcolm Gladwell is part of a growing number of academics and researchers releasing popular, critically acclaimed books that are turning our traditional ideas of everything from economics to social psychology on their heads.

Gladwell’s novel The Tipping Point can best be summed up as an idea: What if style changes, crime trends, the phenomena of word of mouth and say, rises in teenage smoking are best understood when we view them as epidemics, much like a virus.

thetippingpointThe idea is abstract, and even through his examples, hard to fully comprehend. Gladwell invites us to imagine that very small changes in attitude or behaviour in a small group of individuals can have a profound effect on the behaviour of others.

The Tipping Point sheds light on interesting experiments in social psychology and answers questions like how much does our environment really affect behaviour? It also calls to attention many cases of our failure to account for changes in socio-economic behaviour. What really did account for a Baltimore syphilis epidemic and why did Hush Puppies shoes sky-rocket in popularity after showing a flat-line in sales for so long?

Much like the Freakonomics series, it’s perhaps best to approach Gladwell’s work as an introduction to macro-economics. Books like these are blurring the traditional lines between academia and traditional observation – the textbook and the novel. The Tipping Point features interesting character studies, like one of a salesman that would traditionally be left to novelists to portray but studies their behaviour in such an acute and precise way you feel as if you are observing them as a scientist or researcher would.

At times, you may find some of Gladwell’s categorizations overly pedantic. Like when Gladwell profiles and classes some people as connectors, who are great at bringing people together, or mavens, who he calls brokers of information. I think, in all fairness, we all act as connectors, mavens and even salesmen at points in our lives and to classify individuals as one or another seems short-sighted.

In any case, The Tipping Point is certainly an interesting read and it along with the Freakonomics series may be the most fascinating new ideas I’ve read about in years.

The Tipping Point is an easily recommendable book to any open-minded individual looking for a better understanding into why people act the way they do.


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