Sunday, August 2, 2015

Book Review: What the Dog Saw

What the Dog Saw and Other AdventuresWhat the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bet university professors love Malcolm Gladwell.  He takes their social scientific research (some of it pretty esoteric) and turns it into popular reading for millions of people.  On page 297 of What the Dog Saw, there are four such professors mentioned - assuming Herman Melville and TS Eliot were not university professors.  And that's just one page!  What the Dog Saw contains more than 20 separate stories, which originally appeared as articles in The New Yorker magazine.  Each is pithy, poignant, fun, and worth knowing.  It's high-quality instruction in a spoonful of sugar.

Gladwell does what the professors can't.  He makes their work readable.  The irony here is that he does it using the proof method that university professors all value: state a thesis, mine the materials for supporting argumentation, write it up in a compelling manner, and restate the thesis.  Sometimes you have to show how competing theses fail.  We all learned that kind of writing in school, and it is practiced a million times a day all around the world.  It is Gladwell who is the master, however.  He's got the bit about compelling so pat he must have to work at being boring.

Of all the lessons in What the Dog Saw, the one about choking and panicking has stayed with me the longest.  Gladwell places us in the cockpit with John F. Kennedy, Jr. and on the greens of Augusta with Greg Norman in 1996.  He explores the mental mechanics of the pressure-packed situations they were in and draws out the learnings in their mistakes.  What could be more valuable than that?

I put this one together with two other of Gladwell's wonderful books and make a two-page summary available for free download here.

View all my reviews

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