Friday, February 11, 2011

Book Review: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

I had been meaning to read this book for quite some time, as I thoroughly enjoyed Tipping Point and was reasonably interested in Blink. I finally received it as a Christmas present, and devoured it shortly thereafter. The question at the root of this book is “Why do some people succeed far more than others?” We individualistic Westerners tend to think it has way more to do with hard work, intelligence, ambition, and perseverance than luck or situation, but in Outliers Gladwell challenges this fundamental assumption. He argues that the story behind success is far more complicated, and often involves unseen advantages as well as situational and cultural circumstances in the individual’s favor. 

For instance, if you look at top hockey players, nearly all of them were born in January through March. Furthermore, if you look at almost any sport where people are segmented into ability groups and differentially coached and trained at a young age and look at the cutoff date for age groups, you will find that most all of the “best” players that rise to the top come are disproportionately born in the three months after the cutoff date. Gladwell of course explains all this in much greater detail and goes into all the reasons and behind-the-scenes contributing factors that facilitate the making of outliers. He does goes through similar exercises with NYC lawyers, successful musicians, pilots, and Asian math students in order to show that generation, family, culture, class, and circumstance have a far greater impact than we traditionally like to believe. We so often like to paint the picture of success to be one of straightforward hard-working picking-up-by-the-bootstraps triumph. And it is, to some degree. But it is, as Gladwell shows, so much more. If you’ve read his other works, you will find this one to be written in a similar style. If you liked his other works, you will probably like this one, but if not, I wouldn’t bother. I found it interesting and compelling, and a nice easy read. 

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