WHAT THE DOG SAW by Malcolm Gladwell

Book Quote:

“Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. Not the kind of writing that you’ll find in this book, anyway. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head…..”

Book Review:

Review by Eleanor Bukowsky (OCT 20, 2009)

Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures is a compilation of the author’s favorite work from The New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1996. This book is divided into three parts: 1. Obsessives, Pioneers, and Other Varieties of Minor Genius; 2. Theories, Predictions, and Diagnoses; 3. Personality, Character, and Intelligence. In the first part, Gladwell includes portraits of a pitchman for kitchen gadgets who is so persuasive that he could sell clothing to a nudist. In addition, Gladwell discusses three female advertising pioneers, a canny investment strategist, and a “dog whisperer” who is able to tame even the most intransigent canine. What these people have in common is an understanding of how human beings (or four-legged creatures) think and feel, supreme self-confidence, and the ability to sell themselves and their ideas.

The second part deals with the art of thinking and seeing clearly. Gladwell describes the mindset and series of events that led to the Challenger explosion and the collapse of Enron. Could these tragedies have been foreseen and prevented? In part three, the author discusses various aspects of genius and talent, and whether it is possible to profile criminal behavior or predict how a prospective employee will fare on the job.

What the Dog Saw has some intriguing passages that will impel readers to say, “Aha! I never thought of this subject quite that way before.” The provocative Gladwell enjoys playing with conventional wisdom and challenging our preconceived notions of the way people behave. For instance, in one article, he defends certain forms of plagiarism, a transgression that many would consider indefensible. In another, he states that catastrophes such as the Challenger disaster are unavoidable, since for a variety of reasons, “we don’t really want the safest of all possible worlds.” This “water-cooler” book will have people arguing vehemently that Malcolm Gladwell is out of his mind or, conversely, that he is a courageous truth-teller who dares to get in our faces and tell it like it is.

Is this work an unqualified success? Unfortunately, no. There are several dreary chapters, including one that analyzes why one particular brand of ketchup is so popular and another that describes the poor judgment of John Rock, the inventor of the birth control pill. What the Dog Saw is generally engaging and thought-provoking, but some of Gladwell’s arguments (such as the ones in which he defends the practice of stealing someone else’s words and ideas) are difficult to accept. In addition, the author occasionally indulges in hair-splitting: Do most of us really care about the fine distinctions between panicking and choking? Gladwell is at this best, however, in a fascinating section that explains why mammograms, as a diagnostic tool, are inexact and hard to interpret. In addition, the author makes a good case for the notion that intelligence failures, such as the ones that preceded 9/11, are easy to condemn in hindsight but are understandable when viewed in context. Gladwell’s strength has always been his ability to tell a good story and connect it to our everyday experiences, and he is certainly an expressive and astute writer. However, What the Dog Saw would have been even stronger had Gladwell and his editor been more selective in choosing the best pieces to include in this uneven collection.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 342 readers
PUBLISHER: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition (October 20, 2009)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Malcolm Gladwell
EXTRAS: Time Inc. Interview
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October 20, 2009 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags:  В· Posted in: Non-fiction

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