Book Review: What the Dog Saw


Over the past week or so, I’ve been reading the CD version of Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, What the Dog Saw in my car. If you’re a fan of Gladwell’s, you won’t be disappointed in this work. He does a fantastic job of analyzing some commonly held beliefs and reported stories, giving the reader a unique point of view into those issues and events.

In other reviews, you may read how some don’t believe this represents the Author’s best work. Some folks are so entrenched in the style of his other three books that they find this disappointing in comparison. Others point out that this is great work when you take it for what it is.

For me, I found many of the stories to be quite interesting, and the book as a whole was very engaging and carried a common theme: If we look at what we are have been told from a different point of view, we may see there is a “rest of the story” in many of our widely held beliefs. This is not news in and of itself, but it may be news in some of the specific examples (i.e. how to fix homelessness).

One of the things I really found provocative was the comparison of the difficulty in picking quarterbacks from college that will succeed in the NFL and the difficulty in selecting good teachers for our schools. As always, there is a plethora of research used and referenced throughout the book, and in this example he has sat with an NFL scout to discuss the Quarterback dilemma the NFL faces year after year (i.e. Ryan Leaf…Tim Couch…etc…) with judging how “great” college quarterbacks will fare in the pros. Then, working with experts on teaching, he shows how that analogy fits with understanding the success (or not) of teachers in our school systems.

Interestingly enough, I get the idea that the way the NFL currently handles the Quarterback problem is one that the school system should consider using as well. Cut the poor performers.

What’s great about this book:
Where to start? Malcolm is always engaging and interesting and does a thorough job of researching his topics.
Wide coverage of topics. Enron, Breast Cancer, RonCo, Military Intelligence, Teachers, Quarterbacks, Ketchup, Birth Control Pills, Talent vs. Results, JFK Jr.’s Plane Crash, Homelessness and more. Some of the comparisons are unexpected and unique.
We can solve some very tough problems, if we stop looking at them in the same way we currently do.

Limiting Factors:
The story are compiled from the author’s best work in The New Yorker from 1996 to 2008. Some of the information may seem a bit dated.
If you’re a regular reader of his articles, you may not want to spend the money on this compilation.
You may end up learning something…which I know is not for everyone.

Great Quotes:
It’s better to have a great teacher in a bad school than an average teacher in a great school (paraphrased)
To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish

This book is better read than listened too. I’m not regretting my decision to buy the CD version, but it makes going back to specific passages more difficult, which is something I would value doing in this book.

If you haven’t read The Tipping Point, Blink, or Outliers that’s okay. You can read What the Dog Saw first, or…

If you want to save a few bucks, start with The Tipping Point (free at the library – and a classic) and work your way through his first three books. I know the first two are in paperback, and you can get any of them pretty reasonably from or down the street at Barnes and Noble.

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