My wife and I have belonged for many years now to a wonderful monthly reading group. Last night, we hosted it at our house, and the item under discussion was Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw.
I’m very fond of Gladwell’s books. He’s a staff writer for The New Yorker and is also the author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers — each one of which, if I’m not mistaken, has reached number one on the New York Times bestseller list. He has a unique ability to see ordinary things in a totally fresh way, and to make fruitful connections between things that most of us would never, ever, consider together.
What the Dog Saw contains a number of his substantial New Yorker essays on topics ranging from kitchen appliances through mammograms and the Enron scandal, from pit bulls through the problem of homelessness to the history of ketchup, from the development of women’s hair colorings through the nature of job interviews to memorable moments when athletes “choke” and on to the Challenger disaster. And more.
There are at least three very clear overall lessons from the book:
1) In the hands of a superb writer, absolutely anything can tell a fascinating story and change the way readers look at the world.
2) Things that we assume are clearly knowable are almost never as clear as we think, and may, in fact, be scarcely knowable. In other words, to borrow the words of the apostle Paul, in this life we “see through a glass, darkly.”
3) A risk-free utopia, created through better technology and enhanced managerial technique, isn’t just around the corner, and is probably humanly unattainable.
It’s a very stimulating read.