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The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

July 12, 2010

One day while chatting with Dawn at Too Fond of Books on Twitter, she recommended The Tipping Point.  I was buying something else at Amazon and needed a few dollars to push me over to the free shipping (that much too often is the reason I buy something) and decided to pick up The Tipping Point since she recommended it so highly.  The book focuses on the point in time (“the tipping point”) when something becomes an epidemic – when a book becomes a best seller, when a certain style becomes fashionable, when something becomes cool.  Malcolm Gladwell sites studies and research that support his theories and it makes for non-fiction that reads like a fiction with the bonus of giving you some nuggets that will most definitely be useful while playing trivia in Boston some day 🙂

Gladwell’s theory is that there are three rules for epidemics: a few people really do influence the masses; in order for something to catch on, it must “stick”; and the situation or environment must be right for epidemics to succeed.  In his illustration of epidemics and how they tip, he sites the most interesting cases: the fall of crime in NYC, the spread of syphilis in Baltimore, the “popularity” of school shootings, Paul Revere’s famous ride and the creation of Blue’s Clues and Sesame Street.

The research and market studies were some of my favorite parts of the book.  In one chapter, Gladwell references a study in which seminary students were asked to prepare a lesson on a biblical theme, some of which prepared a discussion on “The Good Samaritan.”  They were then told they would be presenting at a nearby building in a few moments.  On the way to give their presentation, they encountered a man in need of help.  Those who were presenting on the bible story of the good Samaritan were no more or less likely to stop to help the stranger.  But, interesting enough, half of the subjects had been told they were running late to the class and half were told they were a little early.  Of the “late” group, only 10% stopped to help.  In the “early” group, 63% stopped to help.

In another study, a group of men were selected participate in a study of prisons.  Half were selected to be prisoners and half were made to be guards in a mock prison.  The very first night, guards, some of whom were men who had previously described themselves as pacifists, woke up the prisoners in the middle of the night and made them do pushups.  Later on, the prisoners staged a riot and the guards sprayed them with fire extinguishers.  Originally slated for two weeks, the study was called off after six days due to the psychological and emotional stress of the prisoners.  Crazy, huh?

I find stuff like this so interesting.  People are just so strange and quirky and fun to investigate.  I’d previously read Blink and really enjoyed it so now I’m sure I’ll pick up Outliers and What the Dog Saw. I’m going to be driving my friends crazy with these statistics on human behavior 🙂

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 22, 2010 2:44 pm

    Oh my goodness! I had to read this one and Outliers for my sociology class. Gladwell’s writing is interesting it makes you think. I too find his studies fascinating! I’d love to hear what you think of outliers!

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