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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Patron Book Review: The Tipping Point

Posted by EPL patron and guest blogger Irv S.

This book, by Malcolm Gladwell  provides some interesting insights but must be read with a healthy skepticism. Gladwell is imaginative and creative. His research is not up to the level of his writing.  He sets out to explore some areas with which the reader may be familiar, e.g., teenage smoking, and others less so, e.g., suicide in  Micronesia. He uses the case studies to make an argument concerning "social epidemics," which are unexpected turns of events, or "tipping points," that are generated by forces which Gladwell analyzes and discusses in some detail.

The three principal forces are (a) messengers, (b) stickiness, and (c) context.  Messengers are special people who exert significant influence on others by reason of knowledge, connections, or social skills, but nearly always with charisma (my word not his.)  A message which has "stickiness" has an impact, is memorable. An example is the Nike "whoosh" logo (if that is the correct word, but you know what I mean) or, for those of us who remember, "Winston tastes good like a cigaret should."

Context is the environment in which the epidemic develops. This is the area which occupies over one half of the book and is perhaps the weakest. He credits New York's remarkable drop in crime during the "90's to the removal of graffiti from the subway walls. I accept that cleanliness can provide a salutary influence but doubt that the freshly painted walls were the principal cause of the crime rate reduction. Mayor Giulani and the NYPD should at least share the credit.

Gladwell gets off to a bad start in chapter one when he refers to a character who frequented the pool halls of E. St. Louis, MISSOURI (sic). Such a mistake can unfortunately undermine an author's credibility.  The reader justifiably wonders if the balance of the work was researched more carefully. Nevertheless I enjoyed the read and gained some insights which I hope will be valid and helpful.  

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