The Tipping Point
Malcolm Gladwell Abacus, 279pp, £7.99
This intriguing little book attempts to explain why certain books, films, fashions and ideas become ingrained in society. Gladwell describes trends as social epidemics that are "spread just like viruses", as people contaminate one another with preferences until the "tipping" point is reached and the effects become exponential. He suggests that certain people and criteria serve as catalysts for fashions and trends, contagious influences that can significantly alter the fortunes of novels, shoes, TV shows and even cities. His examples are sufficiently varied to maintain interest, from the resurgence in the popularity of Hush Puppies to the decreasing crime rate in New York City. However, his examples do not always translate well to a non-American readership.
Despite the somewhat irritating repetition of a few idiosyncratic buzzwords, Gladwell writes well and develops his arguments cleverly without ever becoming myopic or patronising. The anecdotal style of the text is resonant of his journalistic background at the New Yorker, where a version of this book was first published. Amusingly, the book itself became something of a word-of-mouth success, to the extent that Bill Clinton once referred to it during a White House press conference. Here was proof, if any were needed, that Gladwell's oblique take on cultural phenomena is as accurate as it is entertaining.