Tuesday, 28 December 2010

#93 The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown)

I've become a bit of a Malcolm Gladwell convert recently, as you'll be able to tell by the fact that The Tipping Point is my third book by the same sociological author in a matter of months. But it's another remarkable book.

The beauty of Gladwell's writing is that he takes everyday familar occurances and applies a microscope to them to reveal their deeper meaning and what they tell us about ourselves and the human race. In lesser hands, the result would be incredibly dry, even boring, but Gladwell chooses his subjects wisely, tells a fine tale and infuses his stories with drama and rich context.

Two days after finishing this book, which nominally explores 'how small things made a big difference', I was telling someone how vervets are amazingly attuned to other vervets, but despite evolution's greatest efforts, still cannot recognise the tracks made by their greatest predators.

As Gladwell writes: "Vervets have been known to waltz into a thicket, ignoring a fresh trail of python tracks, and then act stunned when they actually come across the snake itself." Yet vervets are "incredibly sophisicated when it comes to questions about other vervets. If vervets hear a baby vervet's cry of distress, they will look immediately not in the direction of the baby, but at its mother - they know instantly whose baby it is."

You jump from that to what television programme Sesame Street, a syphilis epidemic and the war on crime in New York, which started with tackling graffiti on the subway, can tell you about how ideas, trends and social behaviours are spread around the world, and how learning lessons from suicide can help combat smoking.

It's truly fascinating, and my only disappointment is that I'm running out of books by Gladwell to read. And vervets.

So, rating time:

#93 The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown) - 9/10

Next up: The Heart of the Matter, by Graham Greene (Vintage)

  • Click here for the full list of books so far, and their rating
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