Monday, January 31, 2005

Business book review: Blink

The New York Times book review of Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, a book about the power of first impressions.
''Blink'' is part of a wave of books on brain function that are sweeping over us as we learn more about the action inside our own heads. This literature is going to have a powerful effect on our culture, maybe as powerful as the effect Freudianism had on our grandparents' time (the last time somebody tried to explain the brain's backstage process).

We should be a little wary of surrendering this field to the scientists. Philosophers ranging from Vico to Michael Oakeshott to Isaiah Berlin were writing about thin-slicing (which they called ''wisdom'') long before the scientists started picking apart our neurons, and long before psychologists started showing people snippets of videotape. And much of what they observe is more profound than anything you can capture with some ginned-up control group test in a psychology lab.

I'm sure Gladwell knows all this. Perhaps it's unfair to expect him to write a book that encompasses Isaiah Berlin and the ''love lab.'' It's just that in the general culture the psychiatrists and neuroscientists are eclipsing the philosophers, and that's horrible.

If you want to trust my snap judgment, buy this book: you'll be delighted. If you want to trust my more reflective second judgment, buy it: you'll be delighted but frustrated, troubled and left wanting more.

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