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The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

A-BlinkRemember the coach, boss, or teacher who told you to trust your gut? He or she may have been right. "Thin slicing" (defined by Gladwell as "the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience"), or honing in on some key details, can be particularly effective with those who have a strong base of experience from which to draw. Examples include the tennis coach who can forecast a double fault before a player swings the racket; an ornithologist who spots an exotic breed from 200 yards; and the art historian who senses a fraudulent statue as soon as he walks in the room. With case studies and anecdotes aplenty drawn from recent research in psychology and related fields, Gladwell examines how good—and how bad—our snap decisions can be.
Little Brown. 288 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0316172324

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"… intoxicating, if not entirely affirming. … The danger, of course, is that Blink will become the darling of psychics, ESP enthusiasts and those who must consult their Ouija boards before undertaking any life-altering decision." Thane Rosenbaum

Business Week 3 of 5 Stars
"The dark side of ‘thinking without thinking’ commands a great deal of the author’s attention. … One example was the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo in the Bronx." Diane Brady

Time 3 of 5 Stars
"Gladwell’s real genius is as a storyteller. He’s like an omniscient, many-armed Hindu god of anecdotes: he plucks them from every imaginable field of human endeavor."
Lev Grossman

Boston Globe 2.5 of 5 Stars
"If ultimately Blink proves a less successful undertaking than The Tipping Point, it may be due to the more linear nature of the material Gladwell has assembled here. … In the case of Blink there is less the sense of a conclusion that is arrived at than the awareness of an insight revealed early on and simply expanded upon throughout." Chris Navratil

Daily Telegraph (UK) 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[The book] is so counter-intuitive that it will throw management into confusion. … Gladwell’s apparent argument for the superiority of first impressions is also a defence of prejudice." Sarah Sands

New Republic 2 of 5 Stars
"As one moves from anecdote to anecdote, the reader of Blink quickly realizes, though its author does not, that a variety of interestingly different mental operations are being crammed unhelpfully into the ‘rapid cognition’ pigeonhole. … He wants to tell stories rather than to analyze a phenomenon."
Richard A. Posner

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"Gladwell has us flying around the world and across disciplines at hectic speed, and he’s always dazzling us with fascinating information and phenomena. … [He] never tells us how the brain performs these amazing cognitive feats; we just get the scattered byproducts of the mysterious backstage process." David Brooks

International Herald Tribune 2 of 5 Stars
"The author … can be simultaneously lively and serious, with particularly good instincts for finding quirky, varied examples to prove his points. But he delivers what is essentially a hybrid of marketing wisdom and self-help stronger on broad, catchy constructs than on innovative thinking." Janet Maslin

Wall Street Journal 2 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Gladwell is a gifted storyteller, able to find memorable characters and delightful anecdotes wherever he goes. But for much of the book, he struggles to figure out what he really wants to say." George Anders

Critical Summary

Gladwell, the author of 2000’s The Tipping Point, reaches to create another popular intellectual phenomenon by overturning received wisdom about how we make decisions. As in his articles for The New Yorker, where he works as a staff writer, the anecdotes throughout Blink are lively and entertaining. But the sheer quantity of stories about everything from sip tasters for Coca-Cola and the Pepsi challenge to gut reactions to "fake" art overwhelms the main theme of the book; many critics feel Gladwell isn’t entirely sure what his theme is. David Brooks of The New York Times Book Review sums up the critical consensus nicely: "If you want to trust my snap judgment, buy this book: you’ll be delighted. If you want to trust my more reflective second judgment, buy it: you’ll be delighted but frustrated, troubled and left wanting more."

Supplemental Reading

Intuition Its Powers and Perils | David G. Myers (2002): Recommended by David Brooks in his review of Blink in The New York Times Book Review. Myers, a professor of psychology, outlines the difference between "deliberate" and "automatic" thinking and shows how automatic, intuitive thinking can lead us astray.