The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 279 pages, 2000

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: A recommendation from Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust.

Synopsis: Gladwell takes a fascinating look at the people who start trends and epidemics, and the little things that can push something from locally hot to internationally cool. Why did crime drop suddenly in New York City in the 1990s? How did Sesame Street become almost requisite viewing for kids? Why do ‘stop smoking’ campaigns aimed at teenagers fail? The answers might surprise you.

Why you should read this book: This book is just plain stupendous in how it challenges your thinking in regards to trends and advertising, such as the importance of the “Connector.” Ever heard of William Dawes? He set off at the same time as Paul Revere to warn towns that the British army was coming, but, as Gladwell argues, Dawes didn’t have the social connections to find the right people and make them listen, and so his warnings failed almost entirely. Dawes never quite made the history books while Revere gets credit as an American hero. The Tipping Point is a great book if you have a positive message that you want to get going, or if you’ve just ever flipped through a magazine and wondered, ‘how on earth did that get so popular?’ While some of the ideas in the book are business/marketing centered, the information is presented in a straightforward and interesting manner that will also keep the more casual reader turning the pages. An enthralling read considering the current advertising onslaught we’re under.

Why you should avoid this book: There’s occasional leaps of logic when looking at statistics and studies that are presented as straighforward facts when they should really be considered as theories.

Opening paragraph:

For Hush Puppies – the classic American brushed-suede shoes with the lightweight crepe sole – the Tipping Point came somewhere between late 1994 and early 1995. The brand had been all but dead until that point. Sales were down to 30,000 pairs a year, mostly to backwoods outlets and small-town family shoes. Wolverine, the company that makes Hush Puppies, was thinking of phasing out the shoes that made them famous. But then something strange happened. At a fashion shoot, two Hush Puppies executives – Owen Baxter and Geoffrey Lewis – ran into a stylist from New York who told them that the classic Hush Puppies had suddenly become hip in the clubs and bars of downtown. ‘We were being told,’ Baxter recalls, ‘that there were resale shops in the Village, in Soho, where the shoes were being sold. People were going to the Ma and Pa stores, the little stores that still carried them, and buying them up.’ Baxter and Lewis were baffled at first. It made no sense to them that shoes that were so obviously out of fashion could make a comeback. ‘We were told that Isaac Mizrahi was wearing the shoes himself,’ Lewis says. ‘I think it’s fair to say that at the time we had no idea who Isaac Mizrahi was.’

Fabulous quotes:

What does it mean to be a high-scorer? To answer that, Friedman conducted a fascinating experiment. He picked a few dozen people who had scored very high on his test – above 90 – and a few dozen who scored very low – below 60 – and asked them to fill out a questionnaire measuring how they felt ‘at this instant.’ He then put all of the high-scorers in separate rooms, and paired each of them with two low-scorers. They were told to sit in the room together for two minutes. They could look at each other, but not talk. Then, once the session was over, they were asked again to fill out a detailed questionnaire on how they were feelling. Friendman found that in just two minutes, without a word being spoken, the low-scorers ended up picking up the moods of the high-scorers. If the charismatic person started out depressed, by the end of the two minutes the inexpressive person was depressed as well. But it didn’t work the other way. Only the charismatic person could infect the other people in the room with his or her emotions.

Broken Windows theory and the Power of Context are one and the same. They are both based on the premise that an epidemic can be reversed, can be tipped, by tinkering with the smallest details of the immediate environment.

Also recommended: Fire and Ice by Michael Adams; Dude, Where’s My Country? by Michael Moore.

Also by this author: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking; Unleashing the Ideavirus.

Author’s website:

Fun tidbit: Gladwell is a staff writer for The New Yorker (his works are archived on his own website.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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