“The Tipping Point” & “1491”

I’m attracted to books that have fresh points of view, -that try to lift the veil on history and human behavior.  The Tipping Point and 1491 were both NY Times bestsellers that examine something we THINK we know, then bring in new data to challenge that thinking.

The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell was a blockbuster book several years ago. It was one of those books that MBA and Business Schools made required reading, even though it’s not really a book about business.

What is The Tipping Point about?

It’s a book about change. In particular, it’s a book that presents a new way of understanding why new things, products, and innovations happen quickly and unexpectedly.

Gladwell asks… why did crime drop so dramatically in New York City in the mid-1990’s? How does a novel written by an unknown author end up as national bestseller? Why do teens smoke in greater and greater numbers, when every single person in the country knows that cigarettes kill? Why is word-of-mouth so powerful? What makes TV shows like Sesame Street so good at teaching kids how to read? I think the answer to all those questions is the same. It’s that ideas and behavior and messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease. They are social epidemics. The Tipping Point is an examination of the social epidemics that surround us.

As human beings, we always expect everyday change to happen slowly and steadily, and for there to be some relationship between cause and effect. And when there isn’t — when crime drops dramatically in New York for no apparent reason, or when a movie made on a shoestring budget ends up making hundreds of millions of dollars — we’re surprised. Gladwell’s book says, don’t be surprised. This is the way social epidemics work. And then he goes on to describe HOW epidemics of change work.

The reason I’d like to recommend this book to church people is this:

The Tipping Point describes how mustard seeds turn into large bushes.

Gladwell believes his research into cultural epidemics can show people how to start “positive” epidemics of their own.

Each of the chapters in The Tipping Point is fascinating. In one chapter he’s describing how Hush Puppy shoes came back from the brink of extinction to become a huge fad, and then he’s describing how Big Bird and Sesame Street became a cultural force (fascinating insights).

In Chapter Two, Gladwell talks about the central role that three personality types–Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen— play in spreading change.

Quote: What makes someone a Connector? The first–and most obvious–criterion is that Connectors know lots of people. They are the kinds of people who know everyone. All of us know someone like this. But I don’t think that we spend a lot of time thinking about the importance of these kinds of people. I’m not even sure that most of us really believe that the kind of person who knows everyone really knows everyone. But they do. There is a simple way to show this.

This is a fascinating book with many insights for church leaders.

<>< Neil


What if the history you had been taught was proven in part to be wrong?

1491 by Charles Mann shows us how wrong we have been about the real history of the Americas before Columbus got here. It blew my mind.

By some estimates, 90% of the native population in the Americas were killed by smallpox brought by Columbus within the first 100 years after his arrival. It swept down the hemisphere killling “Indians” in unprecedented numbers. Decimated, it made the conquest of the eastern seaboard and Midwest by European Americans that much easier. The depopulation and scattering largely created the nomadic plains indian culture “of western lore.” Smallpox went on to devaste the kingdoms of South America, making them easy pickings for the conquistadors.

The lastest research also shows that large areas of the Amazon basin were “terraformed” by native peoples in antiquity. They made it their garden. Yet diseases caused the large rainforest populations to collapse and it became an impenetrable jungle once again. The “primitive Amazon tribes” you studied in college? They didn’t exist in the pre-Colombian era. The Amazon basin was depopulated by disease and its remnants scattered into small hunting-gathering groups. Yet everywhere in the rainforest, biologists and botanists see evidence of centuries of terra-forming on a large scale by ancient peoples.

Why mention this book in “Sunday”resources.net? A book like this makes you wonder “what else of what we’ve been taught about history simply isn’t true -or has been misunderstood?” So many of our traditions and self-conceptions, not to mention our faith, are based on our understanding of history -both cultural and individual. 1491 is one great example of the truth being out there… we just have to go find it, try to understand it, and consider it’s implications.

My undergrade degree was in Anthropology, with a specialty in Native North American studies. Yet much of what I was taught in college about the Americas has been heavily revised since I graduated in ’81. Indeed, much of the pre-history I was taught has been proven wrong.

As someone of native american descent (my great great grandmother), and as a descendant of Abraham, I think it is important to understand as much as we can about the real historical circumstances that have shaped our world, our politics, our beliefs, our family’s story, and our personal stories.

The book is THICK, but fascinating if you’re into real history. It’s written by a journalist who got curious about some things he was hearing and reading, and went to talk with the people working in the field. the book was a New York Times bestseller in 2006.

<>< Neil

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