Thursday, December 3, 2009

Book Review: What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures

One of the downsides of committing to writing reviews of the books I read is that people then know what you read; and in some circles, admitting you read Gladwell's work is a little like admitting take your relationship advice from Dr Laura or your financial advice from that button-happy dude on Fox.

Gladwell's been criticized for presenting data either selectively or out of context to support very provocative ideas, presenting these ideas in a science-ish fashion, and then responding to critics with 'hey, I'm just a writer' attitude.

However, if you don't take his writing as science, if you take it as only provocative ideas, then I think he makes for good reading.

I'm a contrarian by nature and so I do like the idea of questioning fundamental assumptions, long-held behaviors and beleifs and the like.

His other books use numerous cases to support a single idea (Tipping Point, Outliers...). What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures is a collection of his pieces from The NewYorker, each exploring different ideas.

In these pieces, he takes us for a romp through the history of hair-dye marketing, gourmet ketchup market realities, questions the science behind FBI profiling, and much more.

As promised, many provocative ideas that should stir your mind. Just be sure to question his science as he does that of others.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that's a good point about Gladwell. I feel the same way about Stephen Levitt, Steven Landsburg, and Steven Johnson. I refer to all of their books as coffee table science. It's an interesting, provocative idea like you say, and correlation is often presented in a way that an unsophisticated reader would imply causation. It's fun, but you have to avoid that common statistical trap.

Also, I'm a bit freaked out realizing that almost all the non-fiction I've read recently is by guys named Steven.