Friday, May 29, 2009

#79 - "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell

I was a little surprised by some of the rather negative reviews of Malcolm Gladwell's books on my library's website. Sure, his books aren't exactly scientific, but they're interesting, informative and entertaining. I read Blink a while ago and learned some fascinating things about my subconscious, so when The Tipping Point (2000) came onto my radar again recently, I picked it up.

Gladwell discusses trends in The Tipping Point, likening trends to viruses and focusing on what causes trends and describing how they spread. He breaks his theory down into the people that cause trends to spread (connectors, mavens, and salesmen), whether something is "sticky" or not, and the context of the situations. It takes a pretty talented writer to make a topic like this so readable and entertaining, and Gladwell manages this through clear writing, compelling logic, and fascinating anecdotes.

Gladwell's theory begins with the story of Hush Puppies, the classic American shoe that was soon to be phased out because of low sales. But when some trendy Manhattanites started buying the shoes in thrift stores around 1994, the shoe "caught on" and went from sales of 30,000 to 430,000 in 1995, to six times the latter by 1996. Every point that Gladwell makes in The Tipping Point is accompanied by a fascinating little tale. I was impressed by the breadth of his examples. Gladwell jumps from Hush Puppies, to Sesame Street, to the Goetz subway shooting in NYC, to a teen suicide epidemic in Micronesia. And even though Gladwell's theory isn't exactly "proven" in a scientific way, he creates a compelling explanation for how the world works. Maybe it's because I had a lot of Economics in college, so I'm used to this kind of theorizing, but I liked Gladwell's arguments. And even if some of his points are somewhat obvious: charismatic and well-connected people serve to spread trends, the clear way in which he identifies these people and the stories he tells along the way make this book worth reading.

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