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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Typical Gladwell: no real substance, January 25, 2009
This review is from: Outliers: The Story of Success (Hardcover)
I read Gladwell's "Blink" and was not impressed. Now I've read "Outliers" and I am still not impressed with Gladwell's books, though I have enjoyed his column on occasion.

Gladwell has created an apparently profitable niche for himself. In "Outliers", Gladwell says he wants to lead us to an understanding of success.

He fails.

We get a mish-mash of disparate facts and then conclusions drawn without any real support. Want to excel at something? Practice 10,000 or more hours. The Beatles played 10,000 hours before they acheived popular success. Mozart practiced 10,000 hours before composing his first major work. Bill Gates spent 10,000 hours writing programs. And so on.

Likewise, you must be born at the right time. Gladwell for example takes the example of young student hockey players chosen for championship teams. The teams are stuffed with kids born in the early part of the year. Gladwell correctly concludes this is because at young ages, six extra months of development makes a big difference, so a 9 year old isn't as well developed as a 9.5 year old. But this foolish anomaly in a hocky program is not strong enough to support Gladwell's theory that this kind of "luck" underlies all success.

Anyone familiar with the story of Bill Gates will recognize that Gates' thousand of hours of programming didn't have as much to do with his success as Gates' ability to comprehend the impact of the microprocessor, his unrelenting aggressivness, his family connections which Gladwell entirely ignores and the many other factors that make Gates who and what he is.

Gladwell would have you believe that it was Gates' early exposure to computing that was responsible for the man's success. But Gladwell doesn't tell us the outcomes for the other people at Gates' school where the mother's club bought a terminal for the kids. Are they all software billionaires too?

Gladwell, on the whole, is an entertainer. Kind like a Robert Ripley of many years ago and his "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" with factoids such as that an ant can lift many times its own bodyweight. Like the late Carl Sagan, Gladwell is also a masterful self-promoter.

But Gladwell is not a scientist and what he offers in "Outliers" may be mildly entertaining, but it is not science - and, for that matter, his conclusions are far from fact.

"Outliers" is good as a light afternoon read, but despite the rave reviews from the A-list party crowd Gladwell hangs out with, it is not a very persuasive work. Just some more junk science.

Jerry
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 21, 2010 3:52:16 PM PDT
MacB says:
The argument about the hockey program you make having no transfer to anything else is simply false. Gladstone points out that this "problem" if we should call it such happens when there is differentiated instruction that begins at too early an age. Basically kids who are older are more developed and a little higher achieving because of a developmental advantage not a true intellectual advantage (or physical for sports). This happens in our education system. It is probably more pronounced in other countries that follow a model where younger kids are separated into tracks that determine their future literally at too young an age. If your child is on the cusp of being able to enter kindergarten early or wait a year, some parents think starting early is going to give that advantage. Clearly it isn't since that child will developmentally be behind nearly a year compared to the rest of the kids. They won't be recognized as being more intelligent even if they are because compared to their older peers they are average or even a little behind. I think this absolutely is true. Gladstone pointed this out on the Tims science assessment when age differences were taken into consideration.

Can someone achieve what Einstein did by simply putting 10,000 hours into math? No, not possible. But can someone not putting in 10,000 hours produce such work. Not possible either. One has to understand all of the current work to prove or disprove such.

I wouldn't call this book junk science by any means. It is simply a perspective with some science. We also know for example that those that make unique contributions to a field tend to be anti- authoritarian in nature, strong willed in their own opinions (they don't accept things just because they are told so) among other characteristics. Certainly, however, the environmental advantages and the time factor play a significant role.

As someone who is quite well read on much of the science of gifted and talented, this point of view that Gladstone presents is quite underappreciated and welcome.
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Jerry Saperstein
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