The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell (2000) K

Date Read: 6.27.10
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Malcolm Gladwell is a seasoned journalist and a staff writer for the The New Yorker, as evidenced by his tight, logical, and compelling writing. The Tipping Point explores the socioeconomic phenomenon of its namesake, “The Tipping Point,” or the point at which some product, behavior, or idea suddenly becomes a sweeping epidemic in a population. As demonstration, Gladwell explores a variety of fascinating and relatable social processes–   the teenage smoking epidemic, the sudden wildfire popularity of certain products, and the sudden decline in New York City crime– homing in on product, concept, and process development, marketing, and testing. He boils down the process for these phenomena to three common factors, linking together epidemics which we would have otherwise found unrelated.

Not being trained in any field of socioeconomics, I cannot offer insight or criticism into the technical elements of the book. All I can say is that this book provided an incredibly rigorous learning experience for me. Gladwell assumes a reasonably intelligent audience, and lays out his arguments and evidence concisely with appropriate depth. Gladwell lays out the “Law of 150”, a concept that proclaims that 150 is the maximum number of people that work and network together thoroughly and efficiently, and not only uses anecdotes and interviews to support his findings, but even digs a little deeper into anthropological studies on villages that support this law. It was refreshing to see an author work harder than usual to find his evidence and argue so fervently for a claim. And this is not the only case– he uses genetics and psychology to support his case study of teenage smoking, and specific, irrefutable examples of how predicting trends helped the Airwalk campaign.

Most of all, I liked that I didn’t feel like I was being fooled. I was disappointed with the technical caliber of Freakonomics and its sequel, and found its assertions far-fetched and relied on statistical gimmicks. With The Tipping Point, I felt like I was with the author while he researched and culled relevant sources and experiments, and followed the reasoning in his own mind trying to piece together However, I will admit that some of his lesser-proven conjectures, such as the “The Broken Window Effect”, or that the visual cleanup of New York City’s transportation system was responsible for a sudden decline in the crime epidemic, were not exactly based in scientific discovery. But in his defense, why write a book just to regurgitate information? I think it’s only natural that he  want to infuse his work with his own theories and I felt he did so eloquently, carefully enough, and unassumingly.

I’ve heard much criticism about his other book, Outliers, and, well, the very title lends itself to skepticism. The Tipping Point deserves to be read based on its own merits and without the negative reception of Outliers. The “Tipping Point” itself is a kind of personally developed concept that Gladwell is exploring, so I think the right/wrong demarcation is slightly blurred and shouldn’t be judged in the same way. Anyway, what I’m saying is that The Tipping Point is worth the read, and if nothing else, you will certainly learn a lot of incredibly interesting things.

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Malcolm Gladwell

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  1. Emera’s avatar

    Neat! I always find thresholdy stuff interesting.

    I picked Superfreakonomics up a couple of times, and could never bring myself to read beyond a few sentences. It’s so sensationalistic, and half of the anecdotal “evidence” cited (at least that I looked at) is based on urban legends that have been debunked since forever ago. The level of disinformation made me cringe.

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