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Customer Review

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As I sit here..., 5 Jan. 2006
This review is from: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (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 (a popular American periodical), 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. It is a sad fact of history that often disasters and wars are followed by periods of economic boom.
The term 'tipping point' actually comes from epidemiology, to describe the point at which virus and other infectious agents reach a critical mass sufficient to become an epidemic. The problem with this is that different viral and infectious agents have different tipping points given different conditions, so the idea of universally applying the concept of the tipping point becomes rather like the idea of the hundredth monkey, the idea in social consciousness construction that there is some sort of paradigm shift or mysterious shift in general thought and behaviour once it reaches a critical mass of people.
Do other people wear Hush Puppies now because I have doggedly insisted upon wearing mine since the 1970s (not the same pair, mind you)? Why did they fade out of fashion only to come back in? These are the kinds of issues that the tipping point cannot explain.
This is an interesting text, but more as an intellectual sideline rather than a serious attempt at formulating a universal principle of social behaviour.
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