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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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Gladwell, Malcolm: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

  Amazon  

5 stars

Malcolm Gladwell's Blink is about decision making, in particular about making decisions on the spur of the moment. Gladwell's contention is that, however counterintuitive it may be, snap decisions are very often superior to those resulting from long hours of thought and research: having too much information, it turns out, can impede decision making. The trick is that the person doing the deciding must be sufficiently informed about a topic that he can, consciously or not, isolate the salient factors in a given situation, disregarding extraneous information, and come to a conclusion based on them, a process known as "thin-slicing."

Gladwell peppers his book with intriguing examples of real-life thin-slicing: a fireman's snap decision while spraying flames in a burning kitchen to order his men out of the building--moments before the floor collapses; the immediate certainty of a number of art experts upon looking at a particular statue, a Greek kouros which exhaustive tests had indicated was genuine, that it is in fact a modern forgery--a suspicion later proved correct. In these cases the experts could not explain at once the reasons for their snap decisions. Their unconscious minds had sifted through enormous amounts of information--about the fire's behavior and sound, for example--and had spat out a conclusion--the floor is about to collapse--without their being aware of the thought process. The examples Gladwell unpacks for us are unusually dramatic, but in fact we thin-slice all the time, when we interpret people's facial expressions, or decide whether a potential suitor is desirable or not, or determine whether it's safe to cross a heavily trafficked street.

Snap decisions, Gladwell demonstrates, can be very powerful, but they can also sometimes be very wrong. Gladwell explains how stress and the weight of our prior associations with what we're observing can pervert our first impressions. It is in this context that Gladwell discusses the police shooting of Amadou Diallo in the Bronx in 1999, a tragic case of individuals in a stressful situation being unable to "mind read," to properly discern another's intent from his behavior and facial expressions.

If my explanation of Gladwell's argument has been at all dry, then I have done his book a disservice. Blink is a simply fascinating read, studded with little mysteries--about military strategy and emergency rooms and Warren Harding and the Pepsi Challenge and innumerable other topics--that will keep readers glued to the page. Blink is also well researched and well argued and--and I don't say this lightly--stylistically flawless. This is nonfiction at its best.

Comments

1.

Interesting. The Skeptical Inquirer just had a review of this book in their March/April edition and tore it to shreds. "Gladwell promotes a program of not thinking that is hostile to the primary rules of rational discourse in a book that is fraught with logical failings, misuses of evidence, and anecdotal liberties." and "...due to its popularity and critical acclaim, Blink stands as potentially far more damaging to rational discourse. Replete with errors both logical and factual, it advances an argument hostile to the traditions of reasoned thought: that one can think without thinking."

2.

But really, it's not thinking without thinking: it's making quick decisions that *seem* to have been made without thought because that thought was not conscious. One acts because one's lengthy experience has made the making of that particular decision an instinctual thing. But for the decision to be worthwhile one has to have had that lengthy experience.

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