What the Dog Saw


Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 978-0-316-07584-8

This book is a series of 19 essays covering a wide range of subjects. He considers subjects as varied as why some people choke while others panic, how changes meant to make a situation safer like childproof lids on medicine – don‟t help because people often compensate with more reckless behaviour and the idea that genius is inextricably tied up with precocity.

“You don‟t start at the top if you want to find the story. You start in the middle, because its the people in the middle who do the actual work in the world,” writes Gladwell in the preface to WHAT THE DOG SAW. In each piece, he offers a glimpse into the minds of a startling array of fascinating characters. “We want to know what it feels like to be a doctor,” he insists, rather than what doctors do every day, because “Curiosity about the interior life of other people‟s day-to-day work is one of the most fundamental of human impulses.” Like no other writer today, Gladwell satisfied this impulse brilliantly, energizing and challenging his readers.

WHAT THE DOG SAW is organised thematically into three categories:

Part One contains stories about what Gladwell calls “minor geniuses,” people like Ron Popeil, the pitchman who by himself conceived, created and sold the Showtime rotisserie oven to millions on TV, breaking every rule of modern economy.

Part Two demonstrates theories, or ways of organising experience. For example, “Million-Dollar Murray” explores the problem of homelessness how to solve it, and whether solving it for the most extreme and costly cases makes sense as policy. In this particular piece, Gladwell looks at a controversial program that gives the chronic homeless the keys to their own apartments and access to special services while keeping less extreme cases on the street to manage on their own.

In Part Three, Gladwell examines the predications we make about people. “How do we know whether someone is bad, or smart, or capable of doing something really well?” he asks. He writes about how educators evaluate young teachers, how the FBI profiles criminals, how job interviewers form snap judgements. He is candid in his scepticism about these methods but fascinated by the various attempts to measure talent or personality.

Malcolm Gladwell himself selected the essays in WHAT THE DOG SAW, choosing the stories and ideas that have continued to fascinate and provoke readers long after their publication in the New Yorker. This is a fascinating book which you will enjoy.