10 Dec / What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell
Confession: This is not my favorite Malcolm Gladwell title. But that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy parts of it more than probably 75% of the titles collected in this whole blog. Really. Gladwell is one phenomenal, erudite entertainer … and that modern technology magically allows me to be read to by Gladwell himself has got to be one of life’s best little Luddite joys.
The contents here are not new … instead, these are Gladwell’s 19 “favorites” among the “countless articles” he’s written for The New Yorker since 1996 where he’s been and still is a staff writer. “Curiosity about the interior life of other people’s day-to-day work is one of the most fundamental of human impulses,” writes Gladwell in his preface to this collection, “and that same impulse is what led to the writing you now hold in your hands.” Or, in my case, in my earphones (ancient Walkman leftovers which are still the only ones that actually fit my mutant ears).
Gladwell’s own curiosity, coupled with his uncanny ability to ask the right questions to get the most fascinating answers, is showcased throughout this collection. He presents his stories in three sections: Part One covers what Gladwell calls “varieties of minor genius,” Part Two examines “theories … ways of organizing experience,” and Part Three “wonders about the predictions we make about people.” Among the 19 are definitely standouts that make for fabulous intellectual fodder … why one ketchup dominates amidst dozens and dozens of various mustards, how the story of hair dye contains the post-World War II history of American women, how the birth control pill just might have passed the Papal censors with the right marketing twist, what mammograms and the most advanced military photography commonly can’t tell you, and how Bryony Lavery plagiarized Gladwell’s work for her Tony-nominated play Frozen and got invited to his kitchen table …
And about that dog … the two strongest pieces put man’s best friend center-page … although in unexpected lights, for sure. The eponymous essay about the so-called ‘dog whisperer’ is the best of the bunch, offering a memorable glimpse into Cesar Millan’s own life and his truly gifted canine communications. The collection’s final essay – a heartbreaking piece about punishing (and destroying) the wrong breed! – begins with attacking pit bulls but proves once again that there are no bad dogs, just irresponsible, greedy, violent people … ah, humanity … or lack thereof, alas.
Personal Gladwell-groupie rankings: Outliers remains my all-time favorite, then Blink, then Tipping Point. Also, if you want to read the rest of Gladwell’s New Yorker essays, even if they’re not his own favorites, you can find them all on his website by clicking here.