blink“In September of 1983, an art dealer by the name of Gianfranco Becchina approached the J. Paul Getty Museum in California.”

I’ve covered Malcolm Gladwell on this blog before, but his books are continually interesting, so it was no real surprise that he’s returned. Fittingly, although this book has sat on my shelf for a few months, I chose to read it on the spur of the moment – it just seemed right. This is basically what Blink is all about; the split-second calls we make and how we know things before we really know them. I’ll try and explain.

This is a book about things that happen in the blink of an eye. Without realising it, we’re all making judgments about people and things around us. While we do sometimes come to understand whatever snap decision we’ve made, sometimes we don’t. In this book we meet historians who know just with a glance that an ancient Greek statue is a fake, a marriage counsellor who can tell with 90% accuracy whether a couple will divorce by just watching ten seconds of them talking about something other than the marriage, and why the fact that Warren Harding was tall and looked like a leader led to one of the worst presidents in American history.

It’s a continually interesting read, dealing with psychology so ingrained within ourselves that we barely understand it. For example, classical orchestras used to have barely any women in them, and now the split is about 50/50 for the simple change that auditions now take place behind a screen so listeners can judge only by sound and not by appearance. All of this led to the stark realisation than orchestras were sexist, something that none had ever claimed to be. The sensitive issue of race is handled too, explaining that police officers seem to make more negative snap judgments about black people than white, something that seems obvious when you look at the news some days. There’s even an experiment that explains why Pepsi will nearly always win a taste test, yet Coca Cola is still more popular, and how it’s actually a lot harder than you think to tell the two apart, despite what die-hard fizzy drink fans say.

Gladwell has a background in journalism rather than psychology or science, which allows him to give us interesting information via compelling and engaging stories that show the phenomena he’s discussing in action. He never seems to guide you into his way of thinking, but just presents the evidence and lets that speak for itself. Going into detail on any more of the stories here would only ruin their impact. Suffice to say, that if you’ve ever wondered whether your gut feelings are worth listening to, then this book is for you.