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What the Dog Saw

New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell delves into everything from Enron to 9/11 to pit bulls.

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A collection of pieces Malcolm Gladwell has written for The New Yorker magazine since 1996, titled What the Dog Saw, is a mixed bag of quirky profiles; thoughtful and contrarian analyses of commonly embraced theories, such as the belief that America’s intelligence services could easily have “connected the dots” and foiled the 9/11 attacks; and predictions people make (about crime, job applicants, pets) that may seem reasonable at first glance, but which aren’t grounded in Gladwellian reality.

The author, who wrote “The Tipping Point” and two other bestselling books, examines, for example, whether pit bulls are inherently dangerous. (Not particularly, unless we humans put them up to it.)

Then there’s the “Ketchup Conundrum.” Ever wonder why ketchup is just plain ketchup, while mustard, which once was just plain yellow mustard, has morphed into Grey Poupon and myriad other shades, textures, and flavors? Wonder no more: Gladwell is on the case, having delved in great detail into the five fundamental tastes in the human palate, not to mention the arcane nooks and crannies of food marketing. The author also tackles Enron’s collapse, whether novice pilot John F. Kennedy Jr. choked or panicked (there’s a big difference), and why pictures sometimes lie.

In his preface, Gladwell confesses that his first career choice was advertising, and it shows. “The Pitchman,” which won a National Magazine Award, is a delightfully rich account of the immigrant American clan who concocted and sold such household icons as the Veg-O-Matic and the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie.

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