Each Friday I review a book or movie. Check out a complete list here.
This week I read his latest book, What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures. (I say “latest,” although it was actually released in 2009.) What the Dog Saw isn’t a “book” at all, but rather a collection of his articles published in the New Yorker magazine. It’s a collection of short stories, with no central narrative arc.
In classic Gladwell form, each chapter uses an obscure topic to shed light on a broader problem. He explains why recruiting public school teachers is similar to recruiting NFL quarterbacks. He describes the fierce competition among ketchup brands. He discusses hair dye, serial killers, and Citizen Kane.
His book is divided into three parts. The first section’s stories are character-driven. In this section, Gladwell doesn’t simply write stories about Wall Street hedge fund managers; he writes about the life of Nassim Taleb, the fund manager whose investing ideas are courageous in a way few could understand.
He tells Taleb’s story with such color, such care, you feel as though you’re at the scene. Take this passage, for instance:
“When the (restaurant) check came, it was given to a man who worked in risk management at a big Wall Street bank, and he stared at it for a long time, with a slight mixture of perplexity and amusement, as if he could not remember what it was like to deal with a mathematical problem of such banality.”
The second section deals with ideas, theories and new perspectives on old problems. He devotes a chapter to exploring the different forms of failure among high performers. Some choke. Some panic. What’s the difference? It’s more than semantics. Gladwell explains.
The final section, though, is my favorite. This section also deals with human stories, stories of intelligence and talent and success, but it tells those stories in a way that’s a little less character-driven, a little more blended into lessons we can extrapolate and apply to our lives.
One story, for example, explores the difference between genius that shows early in a person’s career – such as Mozart composing Piano Concerto No. 9 at age 21, or T.S. Eliot penning his epic poem at age 23 — and genius that emerges late in a person’s career, like the genius illustrated by the French artist Paul Cezanne, who didn’t land his first solo exhibition until age 56.
What triggers the difference between early genius and late-blooming genius, Gladwell asks? And what prevents budding geniuses like Cezanne from throwing up their hands in disgust and proclaiming, “Forget it! I’m going into blacksmithing!”?
In the final section, Gladwell suggests a few answers.
Should I Read It?
This Book is For You If: You want entertaining narrative storytelling, with doses of learning. This is edu-tainment at it’s finest.
This Book is NOT For You If: You want straight-up information, facts, knowledge or how-to. This book is storytelling first, learning second.