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A versatile collection of New Yorker pieces that keeps our hopes alive in the essay form. Aman Sethi elaborates.

books Updated: Jan 08, 2010 22:03 IST
Aman Sethi

What The Dog Saw
Malcolm Gladwell
# Rs 599 # pp 432

‘It’s black and white. Truth and lies,’ summed up the lead prosecutor for the Department of Justice in his closing arguments in the case of United States of America versus Jeffery K. Skilling. But the prosecutor was wrong, says Malcolm Gladwell in his latest book, What the Dog Saw And Other Adventures, an anthology of 19 of Gladwell’s essays from The New Yorker.

The case involving the chairman of Enron wasn’t so much a case of withholding the truth, as of interpreting a series of facts — it was a “mystery.” Open Secrets, the essay on the Skilling case, is vintage Gladwell.

Gladwell’s curiosity about the world is reflected in his writings: In The Art of Failure he is strapped into a plane as it slides into a spiral death dive over Monterey Bay; in Most Likely to Succeed he sits in on a football game in Missouri, decoding markers of success in professional athletes. The title essay is an attempt to understand the deeper mysteries of body language and communication — a shot at figuring out what dogs see when they look at their human masters.

A persistent theme in Gladwell’s work is the incomprehensibility of our daily lives and the imperfection of the tools, schemes and strategies by which we make sense of this world.

At a moment when the future of print is a subject of much debate, Gladwell’s writings reassure us that there are still readers who have the patience and interest in long, deeply-researched, 8,000-word essays.