Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Applying the Power

How good does a book have to be for it to stay exclusively in hardcover? I'm talking about books that don't require that format (cookbooks, gift books).

Well, quality doesn't really have anything to do with it. Dan Brown's novel, The DaVinci Code, continued to sell well in hardcover for 27 months before the publisher deigned to release it in paperback. That's unusual for fiction. For nonfiction, though, a book that becomes an "essential" has a longer life in hardcover. Still, you'll usually find it available in a less-costly version in no more than 15 months.

Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, has finally come out in paperback after 28 months. His previous book, The Tipping Point, had already become a bible for business strategy by the time Blink released.

Gladwell isn't preaching in this book, he's reporting. In example after example, Gladwell lays out the premise of "thin-slice" decision-making and how it is frequently as valid as long, laborious research. That is, we can often trust our instinctive initial impressions instead of paralyzing ourselves trying to gather more, and more, and more information.

I've always appreciated the adage that data isn't information. Data only becomes information when it is rationally analyzed and interpreted. But paralysis by analysis can be equally futile.

In the new afterword, Gladwell recounts the Battle of Chancellorsville during the War Between the States. Gen. Hooker's forces vastly outnumbered the Confederate forces of Gen. Lee. Hooker's intelligence was far superior. How, then, did Lee prevail? The author believes he won precisely because Lee knew less than Hooker did about that battle, and therefore was able to make decisions without being bogged down by excessive data.

Buy this one. You can read it in pieces or read it in one sitting. The paperback edition comes complete with a discussion guide, making it perfect for book groups who include nonfiction titles in their selections. It may be the most useful book you'll buy this year.

I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Gladwell in Atlanta before any of you ever knew me. One of the reasons I found myself opening a bookstore in New Albany was that I had been applying the principles of Blink before I knew it was coming out. He is, to put it mildly, just as compelling in person as he is on the page.

As Gladwell told us about his then-upcoming book, it dawned on me that my life had turned in a new direction precisely when I gave up my old decision-making process (global) and began to base my decisions on this "thin-slicing" approach. Gladwell's book made me know that I was not alone, that I was not way out on a limb, but was probably using very sound principles of decision-making.

I'm very, very pleased that the book is now out in paper so we can share it with more of you.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
ISBN 9780316010665 Back Bay Books (Hardcover) Mar. 2007 $15.99

Previously on the marquee:
Indiana Starwatch by Mike Lynch (essential stargazing, spiral bound)
Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides (Kit Carson and the Navajo Wars)
Great Flood of 1937 by Rick Bell
Hansel and Gretel by Paul O. Zelinsky (great illustrations, a Caldecott Honor Book)

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