Most of you have already finished Blink, or are at least part way through it. Now you’re sitting back, working on your tan, and thinking, “Ah, that’s finally done!”
Unfortunately, it’s not. There’s actually a lot more to do.
The joy of reading a book like Blink goes beyond the accomplishment of finally finishing it; it includes the opportunity to actually engage with it. It’s all well and good to sit back after reading Blink and say, “I agree completely!” But it’s just as important – perhaps even more so – to recognize and explore areas where you don’t agree with the text.
Recognizing those areas form the basis of critical thinking, the asking of who, what, when, where, why, and how. Who wrote it? What was it about? Why did he/she write it? When you start asking these questions, you are actually entering a conversation with the author himself.
Would it surprise you to learn that there were people who actually questioned Malcolm Gladwell directly? It might be helpful to examine what they said about Blink.
New York Times columnist David Brooks’ had some interesting comments. For example, he stated that his first impression of the book was that it was ”Fascinating! Eye-Opening! Important!” but that later on, he found it lacking a comprehensive theory of the whole concept (2). Brooks, like myself, wanted to know how Gladwell’s anecdotes fit into the whole theory of thin-slicing as a cognitive function. He points us toward other texts he feels might explain it better (Gilles Fauconnier & Mark Turner’s “The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities” is his recommendation).
Brooks goes on to say that he wasn’t certain what Blink was really about, whether it was about first impressions, intuition, or the blending of both. He faults Gladwell’s use of anecdotal evidence side by side with formal scientific experiments (3). Perhaps that’s a valid criticism, but for the audience Gladwell is trying to reach, does it really matter? Is he writing the book as a scientific treatise for a peer-reviewed journal? Or is it a book for the general public? It’s something to consider. Others have written books on the subject, though with a more scientific bent. Does that make their work more credible?
Ultimately, Brooks’ opinion is his own; as is yours. But it is the questioning that is the most important part of the reading. Questioning is what it means to engage, to think beyond what is on the page, to enter the academic conversation where your discussion partner is in the pages of the book rather than across the room.
What questions did you ask yourself after reading Blink? What made sense to you? What didn’t?
Let’s get this conversation started.
Brooks, David. “‘Blink:’ Hunch Power.” The New York Times 16 Jan. 2005. Web. 21 July 2011. <www.nytimesonline.com>.