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And Other Adventures
You’d think that we’ve summarized all of Gladwell’s books, right?
Well, there’s still one left:
Who Should Read “What the Dog Saw”? And Why?
If you read Gladwell’s New Yorker column regularly, then you shouldn’t read What the Dog Saw: the book is a collection of his best (and best-known) essays, so the chances are you’ve already read it.
However, if you don’t have a New Yorker subscription, then buy this book; it’s Gladwell, so you’ll never regret that decision – even if you subscribe to the New Yorker in the future.
Some of the essays in this book deserve to be read more than once.
About Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell is a bestselling Canadian author and long-time staff writer for The New Yorker.
Gladwell is also the host of the popular podcast Revisionist History.
“What the Dog Saw PDF Summary”
“Nothing frustrates me more than someone who reads something of mine or anyone else’s and says, angrily, ‘I don’t buy it,’” writes Malcolm Gladwell in the “Preface” of What the Dog Saw.
“Why are they angry?” he goes on:
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 — even if in the end you conclude that someone else’s head is not a place you’d really like to be.
What the Dog Saw is a collection of 19 articles – all previously published on the pages of The New York Times – in which Gladwell tries to show the world through the eyes of the others, be the others alcoholics (as in the second article of the second part) or dogs (as in the last article of the first part – the one which gives the book its title).
The best part?
By his own admission, out of the countless articles he has written while working for The New Yorker (which is ever since 1996), these 19 are his favorites.
The even better part?
All of them are available on the site of The New Yorker.
And we’ve provided the links!
That way, if you’d like to, you can read this book in its entirety today.
Part 1: Obsessives, Pioneers, and Other Varieties of Minor Genius
The first section of the book includes six essays and is, in the words of Gladwell “about obsessives and what I like to call minor geniuses — not Einstein and Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela and the other towering architects of the world in which we live, but people like Ron Popeil… and Shirley Polykoff.”
The Pitchman: Ron Popeil and the Conquest of the American Kitchen
First published in 2000, The Pitchman won Malcolm Gladwell the 2001 National Magazine award. It discusses Ron Popeil, an exceptional direct response marketer and the inventor of things such as Showtime Rotisserie and the Veg-o-Matic.
But, wait, there’s more!
No, there’s not. That’s just another thing Popeil has invented.
Yup, we’re talking about the phrase.
The Ketchup Conundrum: Mustard Now Comes in Dozens of Different Varieties – Why Has Ketchup Stayed the Same?
Back in the 1970s, a guy named Howard Moskowitz did a detailed study of the different types of spaghetti sauce on the market and realized something groundbreaking.
Namely, that there isn’t a perfect spaghetti sauce, nor either one of them is better than the others. Simply put, perfection has a plural nature, and intermarket variability became a thing.
And that works for many things – except for ketchup. Many entrepreneurs – the story of Jim Wigon is told here – have tried displacing Heinz’s regular tomato ketchup from the top, but not one of them has succeeded.
Moskowitz shrugs: “I guess ketchup is ketchup.”
Blowing Up: How Nassim Taleb Turned the Inevitability of Disaster into an Investment Strategy
Nassim Nicholas Taleb needs no introduction – especially not from the guys who’ve introduced him quite a few times and summarized all of his books.
If you’ve read at least some of them, you already know everything you need to know about this essay, which is more than worth the read, because it reveals the roots of Taleb’s Socratic and crucial discovery: we’ll know more once we admit that we don’t know all the things we say we do.
How times change, though!
Just a year after What the Dog Saw was published, Taleb stopped being a minor genius and grew to become one of the celebrated cited thinkers of our time and age.
Some would say even a lot bigger than the guy who profiles him here.
True Colors: Hair Dye and The Hidden History of Postwar America
True Colors tells the story of two exceptional female copywriters of the 1960s: Shirley Polykoff and Ilon Specht.
The first one, irresistibly vain and flamboyantly brilliant, worked for “Clairol” and came up with the branding slogan “Does she… or doesn’t she?” and the tagline “Hair color so natural only her hairdresser knows for sure.”
After this, the percentage of women who dyed their hair jumped from 7% to 40% in less than two decades!
Ilon Specht worked for a competitor of Clairol, L’Oreal. She came up with the slogan: “I use the most expensive hair color in the world, but I don’t mind spending more for L’Oreal, because I’m worth it!”
As you can see, both women summarized the particular feminist sensibility of the day in memorable epigrammatic phrases.
One of the best articles in the book.
John Rock’s Error: What the Inventor of the Birth Control Pill Didn’t Know About Women’s Health
John Rock was an American gynecologist and obstetrician.
Also, a devout Catholic.
Which makes the title of the article already a bit strange: who would have guessed that it was a Catholic who invented the birth control pill? (Monty Python certainly not.)
Now, what the article deals with the most is a possible, and interesting, side-effect of the pill; namely, the fact that it guarantees 12 periods a year means that Western societies – and especially American women – are more prone to cancer.
It’s a taxing task for the body to be subjected to more than 400 menstrual cycles in the space of 40 years!
“What we think of as normal – frequent menses – is, in evolutionary terms, abnormal,” writes Gladwell.
In other words, women may pay more than what they bargain for when using the pill often.
What the Dog Saw: Cesar Millan and the Movements of Mastery
In case you don’t know him, Cesar Millan is the Mexican-American host of the National Geographic show Dog Whisperer. In this essay, Gladwell tells his story, from his humble beginnings on his grandfather’s farm in Sinaloa – where he was called El Perrero, “the dog boy” – to his present-day successes.
The epiphanic moment in Milan’s life: when he realized that “to succeed in the world he could not be just a dog whisperer. He needed to be a people whisperer.”
And his techniques have done precisely that – because they now help two species communicate better. Gladwell unravels what goes on through Milan’s head while he trains a dog – but also what probably occurs in the dog’s head when it is being trained.
Part 2: Theories, Predictions and Diagnoses
“The second section,” writes Gladwell, “is devoted to theories, to ways of organizing experience. How should we think about homelessness, or financial scandals, or a disaster like the crash of the Challenger?”
Well, let’s see!
Open Secrets: Enron, Intelligence and the Perils of Too Much Information
That it’d be possible for people to one day start a sentence with “Enron was…” would have made little to no sense to anyone as late as 2000.
And yet, just a year later, Enron, employer of almost 30,000 people and “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six years in a row, filed for bankruptcy.
You should have already learned a lot about the Enron scandal by now, so why should you read Malcolm Gladwell’s article?
Here’s a great reason:
Because it uses the scandal to unravel one of the paradoxes of our age.
Namely, how it is not lies and secrets, but an abundance of available information that obfuscates the darker sides of the complex organizations in the modern world.
Million-Dollar Murray: Why Problems Like Homelessness May Be Easier to Solve Than to Manage
This article is already a classic.
It follows the daily struggles of Murray Barr, “a bear of a man, an ex-marine, six feet tall and heavyset,” but also a hopeless alcoholic roaming the streets of Reno, Nevada.
Getting drunk, falling over, then being taken by police officers to the hospital; when he is released, he starts his routine all over again.
Gladwell’s interest in Barr?
Patrick O’Brien and Steve Johns – the policemen who had spent almost two decades years picking up Murray – realized that Murray’s hospital bill is higher than anyone’s in the country.
O’Brien surprising conclusion: “It costs us one million dollars to not do something about Murray.”
The Picture Problem: Mammography, Air Power, and the Limits of Looking
The Picture Problem – at least if you ask us, the least interesting article of the collection –deals with the extent of the faith we put in images.
You see, we are pretty aware nowadays that we see in many images precisely what we want to see in them; and even though sometimes finding the right info in them is similar to searching for a polar bear in a snowstorm, we believe that we are able to do that.
However, that’s not how the Iraq War started.
Something Borrowed: Should a Charge of Plagiarism Ruin Your life?
This article deals with the play Frozenby Bryony Lavery, first performed in 1998 to great acclaim. In fact, in 2004, the play made it to Broadway and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play.
However, that very same year, Lavery was accused of plagiarizing some parts of it, taking at least 675 words from the book Guilty by Reason of Insanity by Dorothy Lewis and a, especially, a 1997 article about Lewis written by none other than Malcolm Gladwell.
Gladwell uses the event to discuss the difference between plagiarizing and borrowing and the copyright laws and its limitations.
Connecting the Dots: The Paradoxes of Intelligence Reform
In Connecting the Dots,Gladwell examines the notoriously secret world of military intelligence and turns it on its head (as he usually does).
Figuring out a better and more effective way for intelligence agencies to identify terrorists and terroristic patterns.
And, of course, stop them before its too late.
The Art of Failure: Why Some People Choke and Others Panic
There’s a difference between choking and panicking, says, Gladwell, and it’s a big one.
Namely, choking is a kind of failure which results from thinking too much over matters you’ve previously mastered.
This often happens in sports: no matter how good a player is, sometimes the pressure of a moment overwhelms him, and he suddenly leaves the comfortable world of the unconscious and is suddenly unable to shoot properly.
On the other hand, panicking is a failure which results from the absence of knowledge.
In this case, you’re in a situation you’ve never been before, and you have no idea what to do.
As you can see, there’s a big difference between the two. Gladwell paints it vividly in this essay.
Blowup: Who Can Be Blamed for a Disaster Like the Challenger Explosion? No One, And We’d Better Get Used to It
This essay is about the Challenger disaster, and Malcolm Gladwell offers a fresh pair of eyes to it.
His conclusion is a depressing one: no matter what we do, in some spheres of life, disasters will always happen, simply because there are just too many factors which can contribute to them happening:
What accidents like the Challenger should teach us is that we have constructed a world in which the potential for high-tech catastrophe is embedded in the fabric of day-to-day life. At some point in the future — for the most mundane of reasons, and with the very best of intentions — a NASA spacecraft will again go down in flames.
We should at least admit this to ourselves now. And if we cannot — if the possibility is too much to bear — then our only option is to start thinking about getting rid of things like space shuttles altogether.
Part 3: Personality, Character and Intelligence
“The third section,” writes Gladwell, “wonders about the predictions we make about people. How do we know whether someone is bad, or smart, or capable of doing something really well?”
“As you will see,” he adds, “I’m skeptical about how accurately we can make any of those judgments.”
Late Bloomers: Why Do We Equate Genius with Precocity?
In this article, Gladwell shows that there are two different types of creative geniuses: child prodigies and late bloomers.
He uses Pablo Picasso as a metaphor for the former; and Paul Cézanne as a metaphor for the latter.
But that’s not where the differences stop.
According to Gladwell, the Picassos of the world create impulsively and quickly; the Cézannes slowly and incrementally; the former know what they want to do before they start doing it; the latter experiment with their vision while creating it.
Well, see the title: both are their own type of geniuses, and it’s wrong to consider only the Picassos of the world.
Most Likely to Succeed: How Do We Hire When We Can’t Tell Who’s Right for The Job?
In this article, Gladwell tries to point many of the problems inherent in the process of predicting job performance and evaluating talent in numerous different spheres.
He mainly focuses on three: financial analysts, teachers, and quarterbacks.
Gladwell’s analysis of the failings of the NFL Draft caused a very energetic debate in the intellectual spheres of the Internet soon after this article was published, mainly because it seemed strange to say that the NFL Draft was fraught with errors.
According to Gladwell (and the Berri/Simmons study he cites), per play, “quarterbacks taken in positions 11 through 90 in the draft actually slightly outplay those more highly paid and lauded players taken in the draft’s top ten positions.”
Among others, Steven Pinker noted that this “is simply not true.”
It turns out that it is; but, then again, it’s far from simple why and Gladwell may be wrong on this one.
Dangerous Minds: Criminal Profiling Made Easy
In “Dangerous Minds: Criminal Profiling Made Easy,” Gladwell yet again casts doubt over our capability to predict some future event based on the present.
In this case, he examines the methods and practices of the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) of the FBI and shows that, in reality, “the whole business is a lot more complicated than the FBI imagines.”
In other words, that, for all those CSI TV shows, psychological profiling has never been empirically proven.
The Talent Myth: Are Smart People Overrated?
To those who read us regularly, the idea that talent is overrated should be nothing new.
In The Talent Myth, Gladwell revisits this idea through the example of Enron, a company which took so much pride in its employees that one of its CEOs once noted: “The only thing that differentiates Enron from our competitors is our people, our talent.”
“Enron hired and rewarded the very best and the very brightest,” Gladwell writes in this thought-provoking essay, “and now they are in bankruptcy.”
Let us answer that question with a rhetorical question: “What if Enron failed not in spite of its talent mindset, but because of it? What if smart people are overrated?”
The New-Boy Network: What Do Job Interviews Really Tell Us?
Story-driven – as all Gladwell articles are – The New Boy Network tries to answer the question posited in the subtitle “what do job interviews really tell us?”
Apparently, some of the things they do are not the ones you’d expect them to.
The main reason: something called the Fundamental Attribution Error.
The Fundamental Attribution Error – or FAE, for short – is “the tendency to believe that what people do reflects who they are.”
In job interviews, it means that interviewers believe that interviewees would always behave the way they do during the interview.
This, of course, is not the case: excellent workers are sometimes very nervous during an interview, while excellent rhetoricians may be pretty average workers.
You want to avoid making the FAE?
Instead of informal conversations, use structured three-way interviews.
Troublemakers: What Pit Bulls Can Teach Us About Crime
Breed-specific legislation (BSL) – in case you don’t know – is a law which prohibits the keeping of particular types of dogs.
They may be dangerous.
The usual culprit?
In this article, Gladwell argues that it’s not that simple; in other words, that any dog can be trained to be evil, and that no dog is genetically predisposed to violence.
If you don’t believe us, just think of Pete the Pup, the dog from The Little Rascals; yup, he was an American Pit Bull terrier.
The simple solution?
Laws should target dog owners and not dogs.
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“What the Dog Saw Quotes”You don't manage a social wrong. You should be ending it. Click To Tweet What does it say about a society that it devotes more care and patience to the selection of those who handle its money than of those who handle its children? Click To Tweet To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish. Click To Tweet Happiness, in one sense, is a function of how closely our world conforms to the infinite variety of human preference. Click To Tweet There is more courage and heroism in defying the human impulse, in taking the purposeful and painful steps to prepare for the unimaginable. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
What the Dog Saw is Malcolm Gladwell at his best; and that’s basically as good as any modern popularizer of science at his/her best.
But, really, don’t take our word for it.
Check this book out and see for it yourself.