From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Best-selling author Gladwell (The Tipping Point
) has a dazzling ability to find commonality in disparate fields of study. As he displays again in this entertaining and illuminating look at how we make snap judgments—about people's intentions, the authenticity of a work of art, even military strategy—he can parse for general readers the intricacies of fascinating but little-known fields like professional food tasting (why does
Coke taste different from Pepsi?). Gladwell's conclusion, after studying how people make instant decisions in a wide range of fields from psychology to police work, is that we can make better instant judgments by training our mind and senses to focus on the most relevant facts—and that less input (as long as it's the right input) is better than more. Perhaps the most stunning example he gives of this counterintuitive truth is the most expensive war game ever conducted by the Pentagon, in which a wily marine officer, playing "a rogue military commander" in the Persian Gulf and unencumbered by hierarchy, bureaucracy and too much technology, humiliated American forces whose chiefs were bogged down in matrixes, systems for decision making and information overload. But if one sets aside Gladwell's dazzle, some questions and apparent inconsistencies emerge. If doctors are given an algorithm, or formula, in which only four facts are needed to determine if a patient is having a heart attack, is that really educating the doctor's decision-making ability—or is it taking the decision out of the doctor's hands altogether and handing it over to the algorithm? Still, each case study is satisfying, and Gladwell imparts his own evident pleasure in delving into a wide range of fields and seeking an underlying truth.
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Gladwell writes about subtle yet crucial behavioral phenomena with lucidity and contagious enthusiasm. His first book, The Tipping Point
(2000), became a surprise best-seller. Here he brilliantly illuminates an aspect of our mental lives that we utterly rely on yet rarely analyze, namely our ability to make snap decisions or quick judgments. Adept at bridging the gap between everyday experience and cutting-edge science, Gladwell maps the "adaptive unconscious," the facet of mind that enables us to determine things in the blink of an eye. He then cites many intriguing examples, such as art experts spontaneously recognizing forgeries; sports prodigies; and psychologist John Gottman's uncanny ability to divine the future of marriages by watching videos of couples in conversation. Such feats are based on a form of rapid cognition called "thin-slicing," during which our unconscious "draws conclusions based on very narrow 'slices' of experience." But there is a "dark side of blink," which Gladwell illuminates by analyzing the many ways in which our instincts can be thwarted, and by presenting fascinating, sometimes harrowing, accounts of skewed market research, surprising war-game results, and emergency-room diagnoses and police work gone tragically wrong. Unconscious knowledge is not the proverbial light bulb, he observes, but rather a flickering candle. Gladwell's groundbreaking explication of a key aspect of human nature is enlightening, provocative, and great fun to read. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved