Ryan's Reviews > The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
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's review
Nov 05, 11

bookshelves: nonfic-issues
Read in February, 2010

The Tipping Point explores the social phenomena of epidemics, whether the spread of a fashion trend, a successful advertising gimmick, a crime wave, or an actual disease epidemic. As with Gladwell's other books, there's a meme-ready central thesis that's pretty easy to grasp, handily summarized by the catchy title. In this case, Gladwell looks at what makes new ideas and behavior patterns "sticky", such that they infect a large number of people quickly. Often, the stickiness factor is some simple thing overlooked by the experts at the time, such as the "broken windows" theory of crime prevention or the little-known aspects of child psychology that fueled the success of Sesame Street. Gladwell also looks at the people he considers instrumental at tipping viral memes into widespread public acceptance, terming them "mavens, connectors, and salespeople".

Gladwell himself seems to be one of the foremost mavens of pop science, for better or worse. For better, he knows how to engage the reader and get them to look at the world in new ways. His case studies are entertaining and make behavioral science more interesting to a wide audience. On the flip side, though, Gladwell's notion of "stickiness" is hardly a predictive theory based on rigorous analysis, but an appealing idea that's just vague enough to plausibly fit around a variety of recent trends. Some of which, it's arguable, aren't really epidemics at all, but things that came to pass by normal, logical progression (e.g. lots of societies discovering the wheel independently). For example, you could apply Gladwell's ideas to the iPhone and say that the device became wildly popular because of connectors, mavens, and salespeople -- or you could say that it was a success mainly because it was a good product that stood out from its competitors and had a respected brand name. While there'd probably be *some* truth to the former assertion, that doesn't mean it's the better one. What's the litmus test?

Also, the book is a bit repetitive, as might be expected for a work that originated as a series of articles. Each section has just the right depth for that format, but strung together and taken a whole, they are a little glib. All in all, I found Gladwell's Blink more engaging, but if you enjoyed that, this is worth a check-out from your library.

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