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Outliers: The Story of Success Hardcover – November 18, 2008
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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).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Malcolm Gladwell explores the different factors that decide the difference between successful and unsuccessful people. We learn what rock stars, geniuses and computer programmers have in common. He explains that success is not just a matter of IQ, but a combination of hard work and opportunity. In Outliers, Gladwell hooks the reader by first providing an anecdote and explaining the common misconceptions that people have about that situation and then completely turns our understanding of how they got to be successful on its head.
This book includes stories of why January first is the ideal birthday for a hockey player, how the work ethic determined by Jewish immigrants making clothes lead to them becoming successful lawyers, how Asians working in rice paddies has developed a culture which excels at math, and how performing for 10,000 hours in Hamburg decided the Beatles’ rise to fame. While this book was enjoyable for this trivia alone, Gladwell manages to change our perception of success entirely, because timing, circumstance, and even luck are major factors that decide a person’s success. Sometimes the disadvantaged actually have all the advantages in the world just because they happened to be born in the right place at the right time. We have to examine all the factors surrounding a successful individual which all had to come together in order for him or her to be an outlier.
Gladwell bases most of his anecdotes and explanations on research conducted by others and I wish he would have gone into more detail about how these studies were conducted and how reliable they actually are but this is the only complaint I have about this book. He is a very charming and enthusiastic story teller, he thoroughly explains his thought process without rambling and kept me interested and engaged throughout the whole book. Overall I enjoyed reading Outliers and I would definitely recommend it to others.
Gladwell's book states early that success doesn't happen in a vacuum. It isn't based on intelligence, but on a variety of factors, and he uses multiple examples to demonstrate that we as a nation could have many more successful people in our country if we were to accept that it takes a village to make successes out of our children. In fact, he shows that hard work and opportunity in almost all cases are more important than intelligence.
One story tells of the Canadian hockey league and the fascinating statistic that the vast majority of all successful hockey players are born in January, February or March. Why? Because the cutoff date for signing children is January 1, and those born in the first three months have a distinct advantage in age, experience and size in relation to those they play against. That same cutoff date is used by other countries, such as the Czech Republic, for not only hockey but soccer as well, which means that children born in the later part of the year consistently are overlooked when it comes to team sports. It's a built-in bias.
These biases are all around us, and determine who succeeds or fails, constantly. In addition, the bias of a culture has a significant effect on how well a student does. Gladwell talks about the belief that Asians are better at math, which he shows is because their languages are more number-friendly, leading children to count earlier, and which make math simpler. In addition, he shows the inherent tradition of hard work of southern China had resulted in a work ethic for their descendants that continues today.
Many of the stories are supported with statistics. One of the most eye-opening to me was his observation of the impact on summer vacation. Statistics show that the amount that lower-, middle-, and upper-class students learn in elementary school each year isn't that significantly different. But when you compare what they learn or forget over summer vacation, there is a significant discrepancy. Upper-class parents keep their children busy with lessons and classes all summer, while in most situations lower and even middle-class students don't do much during the summer and often forget much of what they have learned the previous year. As the summers add up, the problem compounds. And so the difference between upper, middle and lower class widens.
The book is significant, easy to read, and extremely thought provoking. I highly recommend it.
I am a fan - I think the author is an awesome storyteller. His skill in presenting complex scientific principals in an entertaining and easy to understand format is truly a gift.