Friday, October 30, 2009
Review: What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell
What the Dog Saw is a collection of Malcolm Gladwell's favourite columns that have been previously published in the New Yorker, where he is a staff writer. I recently read Outliers, also by Gladwell, and enjoyed his theories so much that when I saw this book, I knew it was a must read. How this book differs from Outliers is that it does not have a central theme, no singular point that is trying to be proven by the author and further reinforced with an abundance of research on the one subject. What the Dog Saw represents Gladwell's unusual way of looking at things and providing in depth answers to his questions of who or why, etc.
Gladwell poses questions, like why there are many varieties of mustard but Heinz ketchup is a huge front runner in the tomato sauce market. Or he'll take a topic, like Ronco, and discuss the background of Ron Popeil's heritage, talking about how his company became what it is today. He tears down criminal profiling, to analyze why it is still not an exact science, though TV and movies may lead us to believe otherwise. (Incidentally, this was the article I wanted to read the most, so I read them out of order.) His subjects are things that you might not have wondered before or perhaps even been interested in but when he's brings it up, you think, "Yeah, why is that?" Then he finds the answers, making them relevant and interesting to the reader.
The way he describes scenarios or begins the telling of his non-fiction tales draws the reader in. For example, "Murray Barr was a bear of a man, an ex-Marine, six feet tall and heavyset, and when he fell down - which he did nearly every day - it could take two or three grown men to pick him up. He had straight black hair and olive skin. On the street, they called him Smokey. He was missing most of his teeth. He had a wonderful smile. People loved Murray." Gladwell weaves his words brilliantly, drawing you in as though caught in a spider web. You just want to read on and discover more about Murray or who/whatever topic is next.
What I found lacking, though it's barely worth mentioning, was that the articles did not list the original publication dates. For a seasoned inquiring mind like my own (that frequently goes off on Google tangents, researching as much as possible), this would have been a nice addition, to see if any details from his original articles had changed or updated. Again, this is a very small point and may be moot if these are listed in the final published copy (my review is based on an ARC.)
Malcolm Gladwell's unique perspective on things makes the ordinary seem extraordinary. His style is dazzling and I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys good writing. It is very much well worth the read.