The Tipping Point… Minus the Point

The Tipping PointIf this book is anything, it fits in this new genre of pop-science backed up by anecdotal evidence, written for pseudo-intellectual yuppies (myself included). It’s hard not to compare The Tipping Point to Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics because it or Gladwell’s other book, Blink, are almost always shelved near each other, recommended in the same places on Amazon, and they deal with some of the same issues. Where Freakonomics succeeded with some actual academic credentials, and clearly explained statistics, Gladwell’s book read like… well, a book written by a New Yorker writer. Anecdote followed by case-study, followed by personal experience. But…

Don’t get me wrong, it was certainly an enjoyable read. There were some interesting points throughout and some interesting case-studies (I really liked the ones on Sesame Street and Blues Clues). But I can’t help worrying about the less critical, less questioning readers out there that are reading it as a miniature paradign-altering, viral marketing how-to. If my education taught me anything, it was to question just about everything I read, and every time I came up with a question while reading this, Gladwell’s points quickly fell flat.

And then there’s the great New York crime debate. On one side we have the controversial Freakonomics stance which claims legalized abortion was the root cause for the decline in crime in the past couple decades. On the other side we have The Tipping Point, which makes the more politically-safe claim that the little things that the NYPD did, such as cleaning graffiti off subway cars, and arresting fare-beaters helped “tip” the fight against crime. The abortion argument is based on facts that most unwanted pregnancies come from a lower, less-educated class, more likely to commit crime. The “tipping”/epidemic argument is that crime basically behaves like a fad, the more present it was in the environment, the more comfortable criminals felt participating. Both arguments are convincing and fairly well researched, even though Levitt has a few more numbers on his side. Some Google searches such as, “new york crime freakonomics tipping” or “gladwell levitt” uncover some interesting and hotly debated continuations of the topic. Someone write another book once you all figure it out, ok?

This NY Times review of the book sums things up pretty well too. In the end it was interesting, but most of it wasn’t beyond common sense and conventional wisdom (precisely what Alex described is shot down by Freakonomics).

As for what’s next… I think I’m due to head back to the realm of fiction. Although there are these 5 Terrible Non-Fiction Bestsellers.

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