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Outliers: The Story of Success Hardcover – November 18, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 4,268 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best of the Month, November 2008: Now that he's gotten us talking about the viral life of ideas and the power of gut reactions, Malcolm Gladwell poses a more provocative question in Outliers: why do some people succeed, living remarkably productive and impactful lives, while so many more never reach their potential? Challenging our cherished belief of the "self-made man," he makes the democratic assertion that superstars don't arise out of nowhere, propelled by genius and talent: "they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot." Examining the lives of outliers from Mozart to Bill Gates, he builds a convincing case for how successful people rise on a tide of advantages, "some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky."

Outliers can be enjoyed for its bits of trivia, like why most pro hockey players were born in January, how many hours of practice it takes to master a skill, why the descendents of Jewish immigrant garment workers became the most powerful lawyers in New York, how a pilots' culture impacts their crash record, how a centuries-old culture of rice farming helps Asian kids master math. But there's more to it than that. Throughout all of these examples--and in more that delve into the social benefits of lighter skin color, and the reasons for school achievement gaps--Gladwell invites conversations about the complex ways privilege manifests in our culture. He leaves us pondering the gifts of our own history, and how the world could benefit if more of our kids were granted the opportunities to fulfill their remarkable potential. --Mari Malcolm

From Publishers Weekly

SignatureReviewed by Leslie ChangIn Outliers, Gladwell (The Tipping Point) once again proves masterful in a genre he essentially pioneered—the book that illuminates secret patterns behind everyday phenomena. His gift for spotting an intriguing mystery, luring the reader in, then gradually revealing his lessons in lucid prose, is on vivid display. Outliers begins with a provocative look at why certain five-year-old boys enjoy an advantage in ice hockey, and how these advantages accumulate over time. We learn what Bill Gates, the Beatles and Mozart had in common: along with talent and ambition, each enjoyed an unusual opportunity to intensively cultivate a skill that allowed them to rise above their peers. A detailed investigation of the unique culture and skills of Eastern European Jewish immigrants persuasively explains their rise in 20th-century New York, first in the garment trade and then in the legal profession. Through case studies ranging from Canadian junior hockey champions to the robber barons of the Gilded Age, from Asian math whizzes to software entrepreneurs to the rise of his own family in Jamaica, Gladwell tears down the myth of individual merit to explore how culture, circumstance, timing, birth and luck account for success—and how historical legacies can hold others back despite ample individual gifts. Even as we know how many of these stories end, Gladwell restores the suspense and serendipity to these narratives that make them fresh and surprising.One hazard of this genre is glibness. In seeking to understand why Asian children score higher on math tests, Gladwell explores the persistence and painstaking labor required to cultivate rice as it has been done in East Asia for thousands of years; though fascinating in its details, the study does not prove that a rice-growing heritage explains math prowess, as Gladwell asserts. Another pitfall is the urge to state the obvious: No one, Gladwell concludes in a chapter comparing a high-IQ failure named Chris Langan with the brilliantly successful J. Robert Oppenheimer, not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone. But who in this day and age believes that a high intelligence quotient in itself promises success? In structuring his book against that assumption, Gladwell has set up a decidedly flimsy straw man. In the end it is the seemingly airtight nature of Gladwell's arguments that works against him. His conclusions are built almost exclusively on the findings of others—sociologists, psychologists, economists, historians—yet he rarely delves into the methodology behind those studies. And he is free to cherry-pick those cases that best illustrate his points; one is always left wondering about the data he evaluated and rejected because it did not support his argument, or perhaps contradicted it altogether. Real life is seldom as neat as it appears in a Malcolm Gladwell book. (Nov.)Leslie T. Chang is the author of Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China (Spiegel & Grau).
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 309 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (November 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316017922
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316017923
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4,268 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Bethany Jameson on July 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The main tenet of Outliers is that there is a logic behind why some people become successful, and it has more to do with legacy and opportunity than high IQ. In his latest book, New Yorker contributor Gladwell casts his inquisitive eye on those who have risen meteorically to the top of their fields, analyzing developmental patterns and searching for a common thread. The author asserts that there is no such thing as a self-made man, that "the true origins of high achievement" lie instead in the circumstances and influences of one's upbringing, combined with excellent timing. The Beatles had Hamburg in 1960-62; Bill Gates had access to an ASR-33 Teletype in 1968. Both put in thousands of hours-Gladwell posits that 10,000 is the magic number-on their craft at a young age, resulting in an above-average head start.

Gladwell makes sure to note that to begin with, these individuals possessed once-in-a-generation talent in their fields. He simply makes the point that both encountered the kind of "right place at the right time" opportunity that allowed them to capitalize on their talent, a delineation that often separates moderate from extraordinary success. This is also why Asians excel at mathematics-their culture demands it. If other countries schooled their children as rigorously, the author argues, scores would even out.

Gladwell also looks at "demographic luck," the effect of one's birth date. He demonstrates how being born in the decades of the 1830s or 1930s proved an enormous advantage for any future entrepreneur, as both saw economic booms and demographic troughs, meaning that class sizes were small, teachers were overqualified, universities were looking to enroll and companies were looking for employees.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell seeks to disabuse us of the notion that genius and greatness are predominantly a function of innate ability and IQ. He rightly notes that while IQ is certainly a contributor, it reaches a "point of diminishing returns" after a while: once people score about 130, IQ becomes less important and "intangibles" (my term) become more important.

The book, then, focuses on what these "intangibles" are. Gladwell suggests that things like what income level, culture, and time of a child's birth are important contributors to success, as well as a person's tenacity and agility. As the last of these is the least conventional, think of it this way: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and many other computer masterminds would likely not have distinguiished themselves were they born 10 years earlier (as they would not have been exposed to computers in high-school/college, and would have been in their mid-thirties by the time computers really took hold, likely already in other careers by that point in their lives.)

How does culture matter? Think about the discrepancy between how many days per year American children spend in school (180) versus Asian students (280), and how many more social expectaitons Asian students are borne into? Certianly this will affect academic and other achievement.

Now, I should point out that Gladwell is quite adept at anecdotal story telling and is much less adept at statistical analysis. As such, he could be justly accused of overstating his case (and maybe even finding patterns where he wants to see them, rather than where they exist.) Gladwell is definitely writing for the popular market so anyone wanting good "back up" of his arguments may find themselves disappointed by his cherry-picking of examples.
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Format: Hardcover
Gladwell seems to have perfected a formula:
1. Latch onto a catchy concept.
2. Think of a great, catchy one- or two-word title.
3. Write a thin, small book.
4. Start your book with a decent analysis of some facts that support your catchy thesis, hook the reader, then let the book slide into a series of anecdotes and stories. Don't "prove" your thesis, just illustrate it.
5. Charge a lot for it (in both absolute dollars and cost-per-word).
6. Get a terrific, minimalist cover design.
7. Let the royalties and accolades roll in.

Each of Gladwell's three books ("Tipping Point," "Blink," and "Outliers") follows this formula. It's a proven winner, and at the end of this book, he goes into full rooting mode for another hit in his Acknowledgements: "[A colleague] and I have been two for two so far, and...here's hoping we go three for three." Wow. Let's just set up a toll-booth.

I don't agree with the five-star reviews. The book is just too thin, anecdotal, and un-analytical to be taken very seriously. On the cover flap, it says that "Tipping Point" changed the way we understand the world, "Blink" changed the way we think about thinking, and "Outliers" will transform the way we understand success. Uh, no. They are all decent books with provocative theses, but none has enough "there" there to change the way most people think about anything.

I also don't agree with the one-star reviews. Gladwell's topics are provocative, his books are easy reads (this one took me just a few hours on vacation, and I'm not that fast a reader), and the stories and anecdotes are interesting.
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