Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
Lessons from Blink suggests that we can learn how to understand the process of decision making and how we can trust our instincts and intuition to make decisions quickly. We learn that our first impressions often are correct but these intuitive judgments are developed by experience, training, and knowledge
To show this Gladwell introduces the concept and power of what he calls “thin-slicing”, which is "the ability of our unconscious to find patterns, in situations and behavior, based on very narrow slices of experience".
An example of this is a test that was done by John Gottman where in less than fifteen minutes he could predict with 90% accuracy whether a couple would still be together fifteen years later. This was done by listening to a couple sit alone in a room for fifteen minutes to talk about whatever they wanted and measuring the conversation.
The researchers assigned values to defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. Contempt and disgust were given higher values in this group. The man and women used in a test had a new dog and when left alone, it became the subject of their conversation. They had very different feeling about the new dog, but never seemed to seem to get mad as they discussed the dog.
The women wanted to keep their new dog and was clearly inflexible in her opinions. She showed contempt for the man’s thoughts, often with eye rolls and her position never changed. The man did not like the new dog but often started out saying, he was fine with the dog, but then followed up with why he didn’t like the dog.
The points assigned to the various aspects of the conversation were such that the conclusion was that this couple wouldn't be together in 15 years. A quick subjective decision may have suggested the same thing, but then that was the point. Subjectively we can, and do, measure the same points quickly.
Another example of "thin sliced" moments in time where big decisions were made was how much a person learns by a quick glance at another person’s private space. Even a bookshelf, cabinet or bedroom can communicate a lot by how they are organized, or not organized. The subconscious recognizes patterns and connections and we often just assume they are gut reactions.
Snap judgements were discussed and an obvious example was the process of speed-dating. It was clear that a mountain of data was gathered in the blink of an eye. This conclusion seems at odds with the conclusion that snap judgments work best when they're informed by careful thought beforehand? Gladwell is saying that if you have studied the data and have a criteria in mind you can make the decision quickly, but he is also saying decesions are not just a coin toss.
We intuitively attempt to use this concept on ourselves by "priming" our own behavior. We have stereotypes that we label other people with. For example, we may feel certain ways about what being a professor or someone in a certain profession is and this belief defines many things we do. We change our own behavior to become what we feel we want to be, as seen in the actions of other.
Too much information can distract from making good intuitive decisions. “We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.” Gladwell writes that “The first task of Blink is to convince you of a simple fact, that decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately."
The key according to Gladwell is that "truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking". Blink will be worth reading and give you more confidence in your own intuition.
"There can be as much value in the blink of the eye as in months of Rational Analysis"
"Success has to do with deliberate practice. Practice must be focused, determined, and in an environment where there's feedback."
"It takes ten thousand hours to truly master anything. Time spent leads to experience; experience leads to proficiency; and the more proficient you are the more valuable you'll be."
"The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world."
“The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.”
“We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We're a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don't really have an explanation for.”
There is a great deal the can be found about the life of Napoleon and the complexity of all that he accomplished. The book, Napoleon by Felix Markham, is a short, easy to read, biography about Napoleon Bonaparte, the French leader who pronounced himself emperor and conquered much of Europe in the early 19th century.
Napoleon was born in 1769 and in 1785 he joined the French Army. In 1793 he went to the war in Tulon where he assumed the place of a wounded commander and with victory became a brigadier general at the age of 24.
The British were aligned with Turkey and then with Russia and they declared war on France. In 1799 Napoleon learned that a Turkish Army was planning to invade Egypt, so he attacked and defeated the Turks. When he returned to France he took complete control of the French government. With many years of revolution, the French people wanted one strong leader, so Napoleon ruled France as a dictator. In June 1800, Napoleon led the French to defeat the Austrians and then they signed a Treaty with them.
In 1802 the French people made Napoleon first consul for life. He believed that Brittan and France would eventually be at war, so he sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States to get money needed.
Napoleon crowed himself emperor in 1804 with his Senate’s approval, and he dominated Europe. In 1805 Austria, Russia, and Sweden formed an alliance against France, but later that year Napoleon defeated the Austrian and Russian armies at Austerlitz in Austria. In 1806, Prussia joined Russia in a new coalition, but they were crushed as Napoleon overwhelmed Russian armies at Friedland and then again in 1809 at Wagram. He eventually added Holland and Northern Germany and seemed unstoppable.
Napoleon felt France was threatened by actions of Russia and in 1812 he sent 600,000 men into Russia, but the Russians only retreated. Napoleon pushed on to Moscow only to find the city nearly empty. Much of the city had been destroyed by fires, set by retreating Russians. Napoleon waited with bitter cold coming expecting Alexander to return, but he never did. The winter brought starvation and exposure causing 500,000 of Napoleon’s men to perish. He returned to France and surprisingly the people still supported him, but his enemies had been encouraged.
After his return in 1809 he married Josephine de Beauharnais who was 46 years old. He felt his biggest problem was not having an heir so in April of 1810 he divorced Josephine and married Marie Louise who was 18 years old. In 1811 they had a son and named him Napoleon.
Napoleon took his armies to Germany to fight the alliance again, but this time his troops were outnumbered and defeated. This loss was the cause of eventual collapse of the Napoleonic Empire. The enemy alliance pursued him and in March 1814, they captured Paris and Napoleon was exiled from France.
One more time Napoleon gathered some troops marched into Belgium where he hoped to defeat Britain’s separate armies of the Duke of Wellington and Blucher of Prussia. Napoleon defeated Blucher and attacked Wellington at Waterloo, but he was beaten, and Napoleon fled to Paris but he was captured and sent to the barren British island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic where he died on May 5th 1821.
If Napoleon is a historical figure you may have wanted to learn more about you will find Felix Markham has brought his life and the many events that he touched into focus. It was really surprising to see the full scope of his ambition.
"Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."
"Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent."
"Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."
"Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence."
Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."
The Running of the Bulls, festival of San Fermín, is a week-long celebration. Earnest Hemingway's trip to the city of Pamplona, Navarre, Spain for this event in 1925 preceded and inspired his novel “The Sun Also Rises”. Of course, he spent time drinking in small cafes, learning about trout fishing for in the Pyrenees, and partying.
Shortly after this trip Hemingway began writing his novel, basing the characters on real people in his life and the events of his trip. The characters reflected his views of the “Lost Generation”, considered to be the damaged veterans of World War l who were a decadent group, but also one that reflected and defined his concept of masculinity.
Hemingway’s first draft presented a story that was more of a memoir than a novel, projecting his own self-image into the plot. His first draft was read by F. Scott Fitzgerald who criticized Hemingway for making the novel too much about himself. Hemingway’s big ego did not handle criticism well, and Fitzgerald did not mind providing just that for him, so Hemingway’s subsequent changes in his draft are a little surprising.
The story starts out in Paris where Jake Barnes, a World War l survivor, is working as a journalist. Robert Cohn, a rich Jewish writer, meets with Jake and wants him to go to South America with him. Later Jake meets Brett Ashley who he has known in the past and still loves. He shares with her that he has a war wound and that he is now impotent. That kills the part of the relationship that she wanted. Before long Cohn meets and decides he likes Brett and suggests they all go together to Spain since Jake is going there.
Several of these folks leave for Spain to do some fishing, attend the fiesta at Pamplona, and to just have a good time. The story continues with party after party, bull fights, and fly fishing. Jake and a friend hike to a remote river where they catch what seems an endless amount of fish. (Trout of course) Their tales of fly fishing and trout, still today, are written up often in fly fisherman journals.
They cool their wine in the cold river water, drink, talk of women and bullfighting and define the image of what masculinity is, for generations to come.
In the end Brett and Jake finally talk to each other, sharing what seems to be real feelings. She tells Jake that he doesn’t have to get drunk and implies that she really does care for him.
Ernest Hemingway is known for the memorable characters that he builds from real people and settings that come from real places and events. The Sun Also Rises is his first novel and often considered his best.
“you can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.”
“I can't stand it to think my life is going so fast and I'm not really living it.”
“It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.”
“Everyone behaves badly--given the chance.”
Anne Frank wanted to become a writer or a journalist. Her diary has been published in over 70 languages and has had over 30 million copies published. Anne was born June 12, 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany.
With the Antisemitism that Hitler’s rise to power brought, she fled, with her father, mother and sister to Amsterdam.
The family tries to emigrate to England or the United States but are not successful. On September 1939 Germany invades Poland and World War ll begins. By May the following year Germany has occupied the Netherlands and regulations force Anne and her sister to attend a Jewish only school and their father Otto loses his business.
Anne’s sister is given notice to report to a work camp and the family goes into hiding in a secret entrance to Otto’s old business where they stay for 2 years. They receive some help for the office workers of Otto’s old company.
Just before they went into hiding (Picture of Hiding Place) Anne had a birthday and she received a diary. She begins immediately to write about their life and is encouraged to write more, with the broadcast she hears on a British radio station that encourages people to keep war diaries.
In August 1944 the family, and some who helped, are arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl discover in the hiding place Anne’s diary and papers and take them for safe keeping.
Of the total of 8 people who were in hiding with the Frank family, Otto Frank is the only one that survives the war. After the war he goes back to Amsterdam hoping to learn if his daughters are alive and learns that both died of disease in the concentration camp. Miep Gies and Otto meet, and he is given his Anne’s diary and also given a place to stay for the next seven years.
The diary is a day to day account of Anne’s life and a search for identity. It is addressed with daily entries to “Dear Kitty” who seems to be an imaginary person Anne wants to confide in. In her writings she wonders about what type of person she is, and how she should feel about others who were suffering. She wonders why the Germans despise her for just being a Jew.
The writings are what you might expect from a teenager. What stands out is how positive she is despite all that is happening. At age 14 she made this entry: “Let me be myself and then I am satisfied. I know that I’m a woman, a woman with inward strength and plenty of courage.”
Her father is very moved by what he reads in the diary. He feels he has found a part of Anne that he didn’t know. In looking to find an overall message and purpose for the diary this quote seems to sum up her message. “The final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands”. This, and the victory of good over evil, is really the message of her life.
“It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”
“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
“I don't think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
“Because paper has more patience than people. ”
“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
Last diary entry, Aug 1 1944, Dear Kitty
"Little bundle of contradictions" That's how I ended my last letter and that's how I'm going to begin this one. "A little bundle of contradictions" can you tell me exactly what it is? What does contradiction mean? Like so many words, it can mean two things, contradiction from without and from within."
The first is the ordinary "not giving in easily, always knowing best, getting in the last word," enfin, (in conclusion) all the unpleasant qualities for which I'm renowned. The second no one knows about about, that's my own secret."
In The Book Thief, death is more than an event, it is a spirit that comes and takes the souls of those who have died and delivers them to their destiny. Death is an all knowing, all seeing spirit who has different feelings about each of his victims and says of them, “I’m am always finding humans at their best and at their worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both”
Death introduces himself directly to us at the beginning when he says “You will know me well enough and soon enough. I suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you and your soul will be in my arms”. One more important thing, Death is the narrator of this story.
Liese is turned over to foster care by her mother and then taken to her new home. On the way her younger brother dies and they stop to bury him. As she leaves the cemetery she finds a book laying on the ground called The Gravedigger’s Handbook. She can’t read but this becomes the first book she steals. She will eventually have 9 books of her own.
Hitler, the rise of the Nazi Party, the outbreak of World War ll, and the persecution of the Jews, are all part of the story, but it is still the story of Liese and her life that captures our interest.
She comes to appreciate her new parents, Hans and Rosa, and her father slowly teaches her to read. A neighbor boy, Rudy, becomes a best friend and they have adventure after adventure with the neighborhood kids.
Her father had been in World War l and his life was saved by the father of a Jew named Max Vandenburg. Max finds Hans, and hides in his basement. Liesel’s relationships with Hans, and later in the book Max, are key portions of the plot.
The books Liese steals are ones that the Nazi party wants destroyed. Mein Kampf is the exception and it saves Han’s life, but then it is painted over inside by Max and he uses it to write a story inside it for Liese. The power of the written word is an important part of this story.
The book is easy to read. It is a story that shows Germans of very different points of view during this important time in their history
“The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you.”
“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”
“It kills me sometimes, how people die.”
“Even death has a heart.”
“He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world.
“A small but noteworthy note. I've seen so many young men over the years who think they're running at other young men. They are not. They are running at me.” (Death)
The review below was first posted in August of 2017. I have moved it forward and added some notes here, because this book has had so many people come to this site to read the review, and some more thoughts seem of value.
The book was released on June 28, 2016 and spent 49 weeks on USA TODAY’s list. It was on The New York Times Best Seller list in 2016 and 2017.
Why? Why has there been soon much interest in this book, and why has it been so successful? Timing is everything. The assumption that the white working class are key to the election of Donald Trump likely brought many to this book. They may have expected to find an explanation of how Trump seemed like a solution. What they found was a personal life story for the author J.D. Vance's time growing up in the Rust Belt. Vance's story shows that much of his success came from the sacrifices of his grandfather.
Some may feel they have found the answers in this book and others seem to be critical that Vance did not have much to say about how the government ought to interact with the poor.
JD- as an adult, at about 10, and when he first joined the Marines, both pictures with his "Mamaw", and with his wife, Usha.
Review from August 2017
J.D. Vance grew up first in Jackson, a small town of about six thousand, in the heart of southeastern Kentucky’s coal country. He later moved to the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio. His neighbors, friends and family were what Americans call white trash, hillbillies, and rednecks.
His mother was an addict and provided him with a revolving door of father figures. His Scottish-Irish grandparents were new-middle class (still very much hillbillies) and taught him solid values. The language of his youth was colorful and harsh but it could also be considered down to earth and real.
“Mamaw”, his grandmother, once set her husband on fire when he came home drunk. His grandfather, “Papaw”, could be violent and once tossed a fully decorated Christmas tree out the back door. They both packed guns and swore up a storm and obviously had tempers. They were also anchors whose encouragement and love helped J.D. endure decades of challenges and heartbreak.
A sense of family comes through strong in this book. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and especially his grandparents were close to each other and to J.D.. Loyalty to the family was important. If you had a large extended family growing up, this book may take you back.
J.D. said in the introduction that “he hasn’t done anything great in his life”. He said the coolest thing he has done was to graduate from Yale Law School, something that he, as a 13-year old, would have considered ludicrous."
In the Marines (he served in Iraq), at Ohio State, and then at Yale Law School, J.D. learned to make right choices. He tried to find answers for the problems of the community he grew up in. He studied sociology, psychology, community, culture, and faith, looking for answers. The solution, he believes, is not government action but in people asking themselves “what we can do to make things better?”
After Law School, he wrote about his findings for the National Review and for the New York Times. Declaring that he survived with the help of caring family and friends, he writes, “I am one lucky son of a bitch.”
He mentioned that many of his people couldn’t support Obama because they couldn’t connect. Obama was black but that wasn't enough. He was polished. His language, clothing and education communicated that he was different than they were.
Understanding how J.D. looked at his life and why he wanted to do what he did is well worth reading this book for. I like the book and would recommend it.
Quotes and Thoughts
“whenever people ask me what I’d most like to change about the white working class, I say, “The feeling that our choices don’t matter.” -J.D.Vance
“So, to Papaw and Mamaw, not all rich people were bad, but all bad people were rich.” -J.D. Vance
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
"You will not read a more important book about America this year."--The Economist
"A riveting book."--The Wall Street Journal
"Essential reading."—David Brooks, New York Times
New York Times recommended as one of 6 books to help understand the Trump win.
“We hillbillies need to wake the hell up.”
American Conservative columnist, wrote that “Hillbilly Elegy” “does for poor white people what Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book did for poor black people: give them voice and presence in the public square.”