Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Book Review: What the Dog Saw (2009) by Malcolm Gladwell.

It's surprising only one chapter contains the word "myth".

The chapter, "The Talent Myth--Are Smart People Overrated?" exemplifies Malcolm Gladwell's overall approach to his essays in What the Dog Saw. Just about every other one begins with a myth that Gladwell sets out to debunk.

Unlike his other three monster best-sellers: The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers (each favorably reviewed here), this book constitutes a collection of essays previously published in The New Yorker magazine.

Thus, it appears his criterion was to select essays exhibiting this myth theme. One example particularly captured my interest as a trial lawyer. Gladwell claims that prosecutors got it "wrong" when they prosecuted Enron's former CEO Jeffrey Skilling by framing the issue as a one about "truth and lies"--a commonly held belief about the Enron scandal. (p. 155.) Gladwell argues that the truth was hiding in plain sight, what he terms "an open secret". Instead, he calls it a "peril[] of too much information". (151.)

This debunking pattern removes the element of surprise. By the time I reached Gladwell's discussion of pit bull's reputation for aggressiveness, I knew how he would conclude: don't blame the breed. And there it was. (416.)

By far, as a book, What the Dog Saw represents Gladwell's weakest effort of his four. I can't help but suspect that Gladwell or his publisher sought to capitalize on his runaway success as an book author. Or perhaps that's just a myth. Maybe he intended to publish such a book all along.

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