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The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference [Hardcover]

Malcolm Gladwell
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (366 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 1 2000
This celebrated New York Times bestseller -- now poised to reach an even wider audience in paperback -- is a book that is changing the way Americans think about selling products and disseminating ideas.

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"The best way to understand the dramatic transformation of unknown books into bestsellers, or the rise of teenage smoking, or the phenomena of word of mouth or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life," writes Malcolm Gladwell, "is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do." Although anyone familiar with the theory of memetics will recognize this concept, Gladwell's The Tipping Point has quite a few interesting twists on the subject.

For example, Paul Revere was able to galvanize the forces of resistance so effectively in part because he was what Gladwell calls a "Connector": he knew just about everybody, particularly the revolutionary leaders in each of the towns that he rode through. But Revere "wasn't just the man with the biggest Rolodex in colonial Boston," he was also a "Maven" who gathered extensive information about the British. He knew what was going on and he knew exactly whom to tell. The phenomenon continues to this day--think of how often you've received information in an e-mail message that had been forwarded at least half a dozen times before reaching you.

Gladwell develops these and other concepts (such as the "stickiness" of ideas or the effect of population size on information dispersal) through simple, clear explanations and entertainingly illustrative anecdotes, such as comparing the pedagogical methods of Sesame Street and Blue's Clues, or explaining why it would be even easier to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with the actor Rod Steiger. Although some readers may find the transitional passages between chapters hold their hands a little too tightly, and Gladwell's closing invocation of the possibilities of social engineering sketchy, even chilling, The Tipping Point is one of the most effective books on science for a general audience in ages. It seems inevitable that "tipping point," like "future shock" or "chaos theory," will soon become one of those ideas that everybody knows--or at least knows by name. --Ron Hogan

From Publishers Weekly

The premise of this facile piece of pop sociology has built-in appeal: little changes can have big effects; when small numbers of people start behaving differently, that behavior can ripple outward until a critical mass or "tipping point" is reached, changing the world. Gladwell's thesis that ideas, products, messages and behaviors "spread just like viruses do" remains a metaphor as he follows the growth of "word-of-mouth epidemics" triggered with the help of three pivotal types. These are Connectors, sociable personalities who bring people together; Mavens, who like to pass along knowledge; and Salesmen, adept at persuading the unenlightened. (Paul Revere, for example, was a Maven and a Connector). Gladwell's applications of his "tipping point" concept to current phenomena--such as the drop in violent crime in New York, the rebirth of Hush Puppies suede shoes as a suburban mall favorite, teenage suicide patterns and the efficiency of small work units--may arouse controversy. For example, many parents may be alarmed at his advice on drugs: since teenagers' experimentation with drugs, including cocaine, seldom leads to hardcore use, he contends, "We have to stop fighting this kind of experimentation. We have to accept it and even embrace it." While it offers a smorgasbord of intriguing snippets summarizing research on topics such as conversational patterns, infants' crib talk, judging other people's character, cheating habits in schoolchildren, memory sharing among families or couples, and the dehumanizing effects of prisons, this volume betrays its roots as a series of articles for the New Yorker, where Gladwell is a staff writer: his trendy material feels bloated and insubstantial in book form. Agent, Tina Bennett of Janklow & Nesbit. Major ad/promo. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most helpful customer reviews
51 of 60 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Some voracious reading of research on...
(1) "Network externalities" and "network effects" from economics and
(2) WOM (word of mouth) research from social/cognitive psychology
...and shamelessly rehashing them with a doozy touchy-feely spin on "small things can inspire big things" a la "Pay it Forward" (that Helen Hunt/Kevin Spacey rigmarole) -- and lo and behold, you have a tipping point for a book that people are stomping over each other to buy and magically provoke their thinking about marketing or sociological phenomena.
Indeed every once in a while we need a business book that summarizes and makes sense of all that goes on in academia, so even such blatant intellectual debauchery would be fine as long as the BASIC professional integrity of attribution was upheld. The very least one can expect from such a self-proclaimed "biography of an idea" endeavour is an honest acknowledgement of WHERE the idea came from.
As though it was not embarrassing enough that epithets like "maven" and "connector" are well established in WOM or network externality research since nearly 20 years, we were also fed with the MOST commonly used illustrations -- faxes becoming important because other people had faxes, or some quaint fashion catching up overnight (Hush Puppies in this case, but it could be any number of things), or how broadband has swept our world, or the success of a TV show -- these are all primetime textbook examples to explain the very fundamental concepts of network externality in ECON 101. Some arcane mention of epidemiologists' theories does not count because the whole hypothesis here is to provide something that is "beyond the world of medicine and diseases".
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars No analysis, just amusing stories Dec 17 2003
Format:Paperback
This book is presented as an explanation of what it is that might cause something to go from insignificance to ubiquity. It in fact does nothing of the sort and is actually just an amusing collection of stories.
It is well written as a social history, and has a light, journalistic style good for dipping into, but the reader is left absolutely none the wiser as to why any of it happened. I would therefore class it as pretty much a waste of anyone's time.
One thing that particularly annoyed me about this book is that chaos theory - a branch of mathematics almost 40 years old, for the analysis and prediction of exactly the sort of thing this book is wondering about - is mentioned only once: as a footnote.
That's like writing a book about why planets stay in orbit around the sun, and mentioning astrophysics as an aside.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Outdated Jan. 9 2012
Format:Hardcover
There are two observations that need to be made at the outset of this review:

1. I read this book after reading "Outliers" and so I expected to be 'wowed' in much the same manner; which I wasn't. Having said that, however, I still found the book to be quite interesting, as much of the information presented a novel (at least to me) way of looking at what happens around me.

2. How can I say a book that's barely 12 years old is "outdated"? Well this was written before the advent of facebook, twitter, texting, blogs (at least as we know them today), and, in fact, the internet as it is today. Which leads to Gladwell making an illustration that now seems laughable: A "connector" faxing his friends to tell them about a great restaurant. Yeah, faxing. So I say this book seems outdated simply because the "word of mouth" phenomena has drastically changed. I'm sure all of us have a relatively HUGE sphere of influence through facebook, amazon reviews, etc. that just didn't exist when this book was written. So bear in mind, we live in a vastly different world than that to which Gladwell was writing.

As to the specific content of this book, Gladwell has it broken up into 8 chapters, which could really be just 2 sections:

1. What it takes to have a "social epidemic" and 2. "Case Studies".

In the first section he talks about the type of people that must be involved in social epidemics; namely "connectors" (who bring people together), "Mavens" (who bring information to the people) and "Salesmen" (who make us love it). The first section also deals with "stickiness", a characteristic of social epidemics that I can best liken to the part of a song that gets stuck in your head. It's that something that makes it unforgettable and makes you keep coming back.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As I sit here... Feb. 21 2006
By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
... I found that I could not not review this book. After all, I am currently wearing Hush Puppies, and belong to a major religion that was born out of what Malcolm Gladwell might have described as a 'tipping point' thousands of years ago. In this impulse, Gladwell echoes the words of Margaret Mead, who once said 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.' This is the tipping point principle.
Gladwell's writing style is up-beat and popular - he is a staff writer for the New Yorker, and that style is clearly present in his writing here. Thus, those who appreciate the New Yorker will tend to like this book; those who don't, won't. Gladwell occasionally plays a bit loose with the documentation, and relies much more an anecdotal and consensus opinions than necessarily getting strong, documented proof. Then again, with a principle like the tipping point, this might not be the most important thing in any event - any hard, cold statistical data of the early Christian movement might have dismissed this wandering band of a dozen troublemakers as insignificant.
Some of Gladwell's conclusions are likewise problematic, again based on a more intuitive approach that will appeal to some and not to others. In particular, I would question his liberality of accepting drug use; while one might agree that the war on drugs goes in directions that are less helpful while other problems loom large, I'm not convinced (nor does Gladwell's argument seem very strong in this direction) that permitting or encouraging children this experience is the best course.
Some have begun describing the recent Hurricane Katrina disaster as a tipping point for the economy, but whether this will be a tipping point for good or bad, one cannot say.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Malcolm Gladwell takes fresh look at facts.
I have enjoyed every one of Gladwell's books. He has a way of taking a second look at society and coming up with a unique perspective on social trends and conclusions.
Published 2 days ago by naomi catching
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Gift
I bought Malcolm Gladwell's book "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference" (year 2000) as a gift for a friend. He really liked this book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Deerpath
4.0 out of 5 stars The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
It has given me new ways to look at old patterns that I have observed .... His organization and examples help me retain the concepts
Published 14 months ago by Brenda Jean
4.0 out of 5 stars The weight that tipped the balance
A good reflection on the triggers. Some may think that they are still American recipes. It should be read and make sense of things. Read more
Published on Aug. 1 2011 by Johanne B
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read in a Soft Science
Tipping Point is one of an emerging trend of marketing, economic, social science type books that seems to delight in being counter-intuitive and corelating issues in a manner that... Read more
Published on June 9 2011 by B. Breen
5.0 out of 5 stars Little things are not always little..
This is an interesting book. There are so many examples of the effects of little things on big changes. I am sceptical about some of the arguments though. Read more
Published on Jan. 4 2011 by Ash
5.0 out of 5 stars "A life changer"
The Tipping Point is a permanent fixture in my personal library. Not only is this book one of the best trade hardbacks I've ever read, but it's also a book that I continue to look... Read more
Published on Dec 27 2010 by Brandon Royal
4.0 out of 5 stars Appreciation Of The Group Thinking Process.
I read this quite a while ago. The term tipping point, has since entered into pop culture. In fact most of the time the term tipping point is used, there seems to be a... Read more
Published on July 13 2010 by Patrick Sullivan
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but not fascinating
I found this book to be interesting, but not fascinating. Having also read and thoroughly enjoyed Gladwell's Outliers, I hoped to be wowed by the Tipping Point. Read more
Published on June 8 2010 by MD
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent theory on how a small action can create a big result
What an awesome book! I enjoyed reading about Malcolm Gladwell's ideas on how small things created big results, with examples spanning television shows, to health epidemics. Read more
Published on May 18 2009 by Carrie
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