Believe it or not, when I annotated The Tipping Point first edition, I had not read the book since it was published almost 15 years ago. I had the strange experience of reading sentences and entire paragraphs that I had no memory of having written. I’m glad to say the experience was only occasionally embarrassing.
First edition. Signed on title-page. “I worry about this,” Gladwell writes alongside his opening anecdote about the revival of Hush Puppy shoes in 1994 and 1995. “Can a book which wants to be ‘modern’ open with a reference to a fashion trend now 20 years old?” The mention of Blockbuster causes him to write: “Another dated reference! I need to do a new edition.” Worse await him: “Faxes! How dated is that?” There’s even a rolodex! (“Oh no.”) He overstates the anachronistic qualities of the text. The book is still quite modern, and his marginal annotations are bracingly fresh and insightful. Of chapter seven, “Case Study, Suicide, Smoking and the Search for the Unsticky Cigarette,” Gladwell writes: “This is perhaps my favorite chapter. I wrote it before the epidemic of school shootings in the U.S., but that’s what it is really about—I would love to re-write it about Columbine…Isn’t school-shooting our version” of the teenage suicide epidemic? When his text notes that suicides can be contagious, he writes now that “the act of someone shooting up a school can be contagious!” On the tobacco companies, Gladwell now thinks “we vastly over-estimated the psychological power of Big Tobacco. They marketed a powerful drug. But they weren’t all that clever.”
There are interesting personal revelations; “Confession: I wanted to go into advertising when I was young. To tell a story in 30 seconds seems like an incredible accomplishment!” His case study on sneakers “arises from my sneaker obsession. I will admit. I am kind of Imelda Marcos. I probably buy two dozen pairs a year.” And he has a few second thoughts. He thinks chapter three, “The Stickiness factor,” the weakest chapter in the book” because “it goes on too long. I apologize.”
GLADWELL, Malcolm (b. 1963). The Tipping Point. How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Boston: Little Brown, 2000. 8o, cream cloth, dust jacket.