Top positive review
quick dip into social science research
Reviewed in the United States on December 2, 2016
Some may say “The Tipping Point” belabors the obvious, which is that things change, sometimes overnight. True, too true, but so what? Malcolm Gladwell, the master of popularized social research, makes us care about the mechanisms of seemingly abrupt shifts in the course of human events—such as why William Dawes’ midnight ride to warn that the British were coming didn’t start the American Revolution, but Paul Revere’s did. Turns out Revere’s personality helped his news galvanize patriots to pick up their rifles, while Dawes’ identical cry made people turn over and go back to sleep. Revere had two of the three traits Gladwell identifies as necessary to the spread of social trends: he was a Connector and a Maven. Revere had a vast rolodex of acquaintances in colonial Massachusetts and he knew everything there was to know about the nascent independence movement. He set the scene for resistance to the onmarching British, and a few local men of Gladwell’s third type, the Persuaders, finished the job of rallying the militias of Concord and Lexington.
Gladwell is adept at explaining the academic research that led to such popular ideas as “six degrees of separation” and relating such social science experimentation to his overall theme of how change happens. He goes deeply into the discoveries about learning that led to the success of “Sesame Street” and “Blue’s Clues”—these shows’ producers used the idea of “stickiness” to instill basic principles and values in pre-schoolers. The “broken windows” theory of policing gets a thorough explainer, including a side trip into how do-gooding seminarians can allow themselves to avoid being good Samaritans. Advertising is one of the great accelerators of trends, and Gladwell marshals a few Madison Ave. case studies to show how commercials tip us into parting with our hard-earned cash.
Absolutely painless learning is what Gladwell offers, with a side benefit of greater self-awareness.