His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Read more...
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More About Outliers by Malcolm GladwellOverviewIn this stunning bestseller, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of "outliers"--the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful.
His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing.
Along the way he reveals the secrets of software billionaires like Bill Gates, why you've never heard of the smartest man in the world, why almost no star hockey players are born in the fall, why Asians are good at math, what made the Beatles the greatest rock band and, why, when it comes to plane crashes, where the pilots are from matters as much as how well they are trained.
The lives of outliers follow a peculiar and unexpected logic, and in uncovering that logic, Gladwell presents a fascinating blueprint for making the most of human potential--one that transforms the way we understand success.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 48.
- Review Date: 2008-09-22
- Reviewer: Staff
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).BookPage Reviews
Gladwell's secrets of success
After exploring the dynamics of social change in The Tipping Point, and decision-
making in Blink, Malcolm Gladwell turns to the subject of success in his new book,
Outliers. Written in Gladwell's typical breezy, conversational style, Outliers seeks to discover what makes people smart, wealthy or famous. Gladwell argues that in studying successful people, we spend too much time on what they are like and not enough time on where they are from. In other words, he believes that it is "their culture, their family, their generation and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringings" which determines their success.
One of the joys of Gladwell's writing is the way he explains complex theories using everyday examples. In Outliers, he makes the case that success is sometimes shaped by the smallest factors. Take a person's birthday. The most successful Canadian hockey players are born in January, February and March, Gladwell writes, simply because the cut-off date for age class hockey in Canada is January 1. Thus, those born after that date are held back a year, giving them an age and size advantage.
Environment also plays a big role in success. Gladwell compares the lives of two geniuses: physicist Robert Oppenheimer and a little-known Missouri man named Christopher Langan. Both were tested and found to have high IQs. But Gladwell argues that Oppenheimer had a huge advantage being raised in a wealthy, educated family, while Langan was born into a poor, broken family. Oppenheimer went to Harvard and Cambridge and helped develop the nuclear bomb. Langan had poor grades in school, never finished college and makes money competing on TV game shows.
Then there is the factor of opportunity in shaping success. Why was Bill Gates successful? Well, he was smart, but he also grew up when the personal computer was coming of age, offering him opportunities to tinker and create new software. Gladwell's unique perspective challenges readers to think about intelligence, success and fame in a new way. Outliers is a clever, entertaining book that stimulates readers' minds and broadens their perspectives. It is, in its own way, genius.