Tipping down

24 02 2011

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

“The best way to understand the dramatic transformation of unknown books into bestsellers, or the rise of teenage smoking, or the phenomena of word of mouth or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life,” writes Malcolm Gladwell, “is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviours spread just like viruses do.” Although anyone familiar with the theory of mimetics will recognise this concept, Gladwell’s The Tipping Point has quite a few interesting twists on the subject.

For example, Paul Revere was able to galvanise the forces of resistance so effectively in part because he was what Gladwell calls a “Connector”: he knew just about everybody, particularly the revolutionary leaders in each of the towns that he rode through. But Revere “wasn’t just the man with the biggest Rolodex in colonial Boston”, he was also a “Maven” who gathered extensive information about the British. He knew what was going on and he knew exactly whom to tell. The phenomenon continues to this day–think of how often you’ve received information in an e-mail message that had been forwarded at least half a dozen times before reaching you.

Gladwell develops these and other concepts (such as the “stickiness” of ideas or the effect of population size on information dispersal) through simple, clear explanations and entertainingly illustrative anecdotes, such as comparing the pedagogical methods of Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues, or explaining why it would be even easier to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with the actor Rod Steiger.

Have come rather late to this international best seller. It seems to me to justify msot of the hype as it is a well-written and persuasive set of arguments. The cases used to exemplify Gladwell’s thesis are compelling but we are left with feeling that this is a partial picture – as with all of the management gurus the cases are well selected but there must be many more which would contradict the arguments. Never mind, it’s still good stuff.

The Malcolm Gladwell book generator is a rather entertaining follow up.

Robin a bobbin

17 02 2011

Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

According to Vogue: “Nobody can delve into the dark, twisted mind of a murderer better than a Scandinavian thriller writer”. Nothing like a sweeping generalisation to start things off. However, this is a really good crime thriller and well worth the puff. The blurb summarises it thus:

Harry Hole, drunkard, loner and brilliant detective is reassigned to surveillance after a high profile mistake. He’s bored by his new job until a report of a rare and unusual gun being fired sparks his interest because of its possible links to Neo Nazi activity. Then a former soldier is found with his throat cut. Next Harry’s former partner is murdered. Why had she been trying to reach Harry on the night her head was smashed in? The investigation leads Harry to suspect that the crimes have their roots in the battlefields of Eastern Front during WWII. In a quest that takes him to South Africa and Vienna, Harry finds himself perpetually one step behind the killer. He will be both winner and loser by the novel’s nail-biting conclusion. The Redbreast. He’s your judge, jury and executioner…And he must be stopped.

All good stuff. Looking forward to further cheery storylines in this series. Without wishing to spoil the plot too much I think it only fair to point out that the Redbreast of the title is not, in this case, an actual bird. Nor is he called Robin. In fact he displays very little interest in ornithology whatsoever what with all of that judging and executing.

[Read on iPad]

Approximation of a playlist §53: Jeux sans frontieres

10 02 2011

Songs or artists featuring games of one kind or another

Go Now – The Moody Blues
Ideology – Billy Bragg
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
Born of frustration – James
Twisting By The Pool – Dire Straits
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word – Elton John
Seasons In The Sun – Terry Jacks
That’ll Be The Day – Buddy Holly and The Crickets
View from a Bridge – Kim Wilde
Duchess – The Stranglers
Come Back My Love – Darts
Seven wonders – Fleetwood Mac
Your Cheatin’ Heart – Patsy Cline
Tumbling Dice – The Rolling Stones
Domino Dancing – Pet Shop Boys

Patience – Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
Gordon’s Gin – Human League
Hide and seek – Howard Jones
Solitaire – Tony Christie
Games Without Frontiers – Peter Gabriel

Moonlit journeys

4 02 2011

Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb

Anxious to please his bourgeois father, Mihaly has joined the family firm in Budapest. Pursued by nostalgia for his bohemian youth, he seeks escape in marriage to Erzsi, not realising that she has chosen him as a means to her own rebellion. On their honeymoon in Italy, Mihaly ‘loses’ his bride at a provincial station and embarks on a chaotic and bizarre journey that leads him finally to Rome. There all the death-haunted and erotic elements of his past converge, and he, like Erzsi, has finally to make a choice.

One of my favourite Christmas presents this year, this is a genuinely terrific book. Highly regarded in Hungary it seems extraordinary that its impact has been pretty modest in the English speaking world. It’s an outstanding, natural, translation and deserves a place on everyone’s bookshelf.

There is a brief tidy review by Nicholas Lezard of this book in the Guardian which summarises extremely well the case for its status as a modern classic. As noted here it is reminiscent of Cocteau but also reminded me of Sartre’s Age of Reason. But Szerb has a voice of his own and it comes across wonderfully here.

Read it.

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