Suggested Reading

GENERAL
Strangers to Ourselves:
Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious
Timothy Wilson.
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In Blink, I probably owe a bigger intellectual debt to Tim Wilson (and his longtime collaborator, Jonathan Schooler) than anyone else, and Strangers to Ourselves is probably the most influential book I’ve ever read. It also inspired two, separate New Yorker articles of mine: “Getting Over It” and “Personality Plus.” In fact, I once gave a talk at the University of Virginia–where Wilson teaches. He was sitting in the front row, and I had the distinctly uncomfortable feeling, half way through, that I was simply giving the audience a kind of popularized version of Wilson’s own work. Imagine giving a talk on physics, in 1910, and saying “you know, there’s this thing called relativity,” and then spotting Einstein in the front row. In any case, Strangers to Ourselves, is a beautifully written book. In it, Wilson asks the question: what, at the end of the day, can we really know about ourselves? His answer: not much. Or, at least, not nearly as much as we think we can know. But it’s a tribute to Wilson, that in giving that answer he is never disheartening or depressing.

GENERAL
Sources of Power:
How People Make Decisions
Gary Klein.
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general
Intuition at Work:
How to Use Your Gut Feelings
to Make Better Decisions at Work
Gary Klein.
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Gary Klein has one of the most interesting jobs in America. He runs a consulting firm that helps people–or, more precisely, institutions–make decisions. So if you’re the U.S. Marine Corp and you want to train your officers to make better decisions in combat, or you’re Boeing and you want to figure how to design an aircraft cockpit to reduce errors, or you’re a nuclear reactor and you are worried about how long it took your staff to respond to an accident, you call in Klein. These books are mediations on how humans think, only everything he talks about is drawn from one of the real-world cases he’s worked on. I’ve met Klein on several times. He’s a wonderful, unassuming man, with the irresistible quality–whenever you say something–of tilting his head sideways and saying: “You know, that reminds me of . . . . ” And what that reminds him of is something utterly unexpected and fascinating. But go easy on Gary. He’s a Cincinnati Bengals fan.

general
Descartes’ Error:
Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain.
Antonio Damasio
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There isn’t any description in Blink of precisely how our brains make unconscious judgments. That was a deliberate omission. I felt that Damasio had done such a wonderful job of addressing that question in his many books–and this one in particular–that it would have been foolish for me to try and cover the same ground.

general
Educating Intuition
Robin Hogarth
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general
Intuition:
Its Powers and Perils
David Myers
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These are both the formal, academic versions of the kind of thinking that I was describing in Blink. If you are interested in exploring the general question of intuition, they are invaluable.

general
The Illusion of
Conscious Will.
Daniel Wegner
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I recommend this book with a caveat. The good news is that Wegner is an extraordinary powerful thinker, and the topic of this book is profoundly important. Given that much of what we do we do unconsciously, Wegner asks, what then is free will? The answer, he says, is that free will is largely an illusion. It’s very hard to read this book and not come away a little discomforted about human behavior. But here’s the caveat. This is not an easy book. It’s not that Wegner is a bad writer. It’s that the topics his discussing are pretty challenging. So buy it if you are up for a bit of work-out.

On detecting Fakes
False Impressions:
The Hunt for Big Time Art Fakes.
Thomas Hoving
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When I was just starting Blink, I stumbled across this book by accident in the library. I was captivated. This is a book about exactly what I wanted to describe–unconscious –only Hoving’s focus is entirely on the art world. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a wonderful storyteller. Hoving was the very first person I interviewed for my book. I spent a day with him at his country house in upstate New York. He told one fascinating and hilarious yarn after another, and my thought–as I drove home–was: researching this book is going to be really interesting.

On Thin-slicing
Simple Heuristics That
Make Us Smart.
Gerd Gigerenzer, Peter M. Todd,
and the ABC Research Group.
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This is an academic work. But it’s a wonderful introduction to the notion that the cognitive short-cuts that we take as human beings–the leaps that serve as the basis for our snap judgments–can be really powerful. I wish I had spent more time on Gigerenzer’s work in Blink, because it deserves a wider hearing.

On Thin-slicing
The Seven Principles for
Making Marriages Work.
John Gottman
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On Thin-slicing
Why Marriages Succeed or Fail…
And How You Can Make Yours Last.
John Gottman
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On Thin-slicing
The Relationship Cure.
John Gottman
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Gottman writes books both for the general audience and the academic audience–so be careful. For instance, in “The Mathematics of Divorce” he explains–well–the mathematics of divorce. I can’t do much better than that, I’m afraid, because the whole thing was massively above my head. But he has a number of really wonderful popular books–of which these are probably the most useful. Gottman’s basic premise is that many of our ideas about why marriages go wrong are mistaken. He doesn’t think that marital discord is caused by a breakdown in communication, for instance. Unhappy couples, in his experiences, are in fact really good at communication–at communicating their disdain for each other. If you find this kind of thing interesting–and I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t–then Gottman’s book are worth a look.

On Errors in Snap Judgments
Pervasive Prejudice?
Unconventional Evidence of Race
and Gender Discrimination.
Ian Ayres.
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I used the chapter in this book on discrimination by car salesman for Blink. But it you are interested in exploring this topic further, I heartily recommend Ayres. His one of a new class of economists–like the University of Chicago’s Steve Levitt (the co-author of the wonderful book Freakonomics)–who are interested in testing ideas about behavior and economics in the real world. Ayres recently did, for example, a study looking at how people tip taxi-drivers. What he found is that even though we think we pretty much tip the same all the time, we don’t. When the taxi driver is a different color than we are, we tip an awful lot less–and we are completely unaware of what we are doing? Isn’t that interesting? Anyway, this book is full of that kind of analysis. It’s not written squarely with a mass audience in mind. But I happen to think that this subject–of subtle, unconscious discrimination–is just about the most important social justice issue we face.

On Mind-Reading
Emotions Revealed:
Recognizing Faces and Feelings to
Improve Communication and
Emotional Life.
Paul Ekman.
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On Mind-Reading
Telling Lies:
Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace,
Politics, and Marriage.
Paul Ekman.
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The material about Ekman and reading faces in Blink is based on an article I wrote a few years ago for The New Yorker called “The Naked Face.” I have never spent as long on an article as I did on that piece. It took a year. Why? Because I didn’t want to stop reporting it. I must have visited Ekman five times, and each time I just sat in his office, absolutely transfixed by what he had to say. Have you any idea, for instance, what it’s like to talk to someone who has a demonstrated ability to pick up on the micro-expressions that flit across your face in several thousands of a second, or to make sense of the bundle of expressions that signal deception? It’s a little weird, frankly. But also kind of cool. Sadly, we all can’t spend hours and hours with Ekman. But you can certainly buy his books. If you’re interesting in digging deeper. I recommend visiting his website, paulekman.com, and also reading his book on Darwin: Darwin and Facial Expression: A Century of Research in Review.

On Temporary Autism
Into the Kill Zone:
A Cop’s Eye View of Deadly Force.
David Klinger.
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This book is deceptively simple in structure. Klinger simply went around America and interviewed police officers who had either fired a gun, or been fired upon. You might think the result would be straightforward. Wrong. The stories he’s collected here–and then –represent an extraordinary oral history of the psychological and physiological consequences of gun-play.