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Outliers: The Story of Successby Malcolm Gladwell
If you've ever wondered what so-and-so had that you didn't, you need to read Outliers. Gladwell's writing is always engaging, especially when he illuminates the mysterious elements that allow one person to succeed beyond all others.
"Part psychologist, part sociologist and investigative reporter, Gladwell tells intriguing tales about people who overcome adversity: children of Jewish immigrants; talented musicians from the back streets of Liverpool, England; and flight attendants from Korea. With relentless curiosity and a keen fascination with significant details, he focuses on trends and illuminates the larger lessons he wants everyone to learn. Jargon never rears its head, which in part explains his enduring popularity." Jonah Raskin, San Francisco Chronicle (read the entire San Francisco Chronicle review)
"Outliers argues that American society has a limited and misleading understanding of how and why people succeed. Gladwell never precisely defines what he means by "success," but most of his examples center on people who have risen to great heights in their professional careers. His book adopts the classical reassurances of the self-help line about the irrelevance of personal endowments and talents — indeed, it goes so far in its rejection of the power of individual intellect that it becomes itself an exercise in anti-intellectualism." Isaac Chotiner, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
In this stunning new book, 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. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different? 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 explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.
Brilliant and entertaining, Outliers is a landmark work that will simultaneously delight and illuminate.
"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. Leslie T. Chang is the author of Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China (Spiegel & Grau). Take a trip to New Delhi or New Jersey — or even back in time — with these lavish photography books." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
With his knack for spotting curious findings in the social sciences, his vivid writing about phenomena that he has named ("The Tipping Point," "Blink"), his signature Afro and his star quality in public appearances, Malcolm Gladwell stands out among contemporary writers: In his own terms, he is one of the outliers — "men and women who do things that are out of the ordinary." As... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) an outlier, Gladwell turns conventional wisdom on its head. In much of the world, particularly in the United States today, we attribute success to the attributes of the individual. In other regions, and in other eras, great achievements are attributed to luck or fate. But the pendulum of explanation swings. Following a period in which it was politically incorrect to invoke nature, we now find ourselves in an era in which biological causes are all too readily cited. By reconceptualizing the relationship between nature and nurture, Gladwell performs a valuable service. He assembles a powerful brief in favor of the argument that the time, place and resources available to individuals and groups are decisive factors in their eventual success or failure. In vintage Gladwellian fashion, he applies this lens to a fascinating array of cases, many of them unfamiliar, and culminates with an account of one outlier to whom he has special access: himself. Gladwell is most persuasive when he examines single individuals or small and easily defined groups. He reveals the reasons why star Canadian hockey players are typically born in January, February or March; why nearly all of the pioneers in hardware and software were born in the United States in the middle 1950s; and, most astonishing, why 14 of the 75 richest persons in the history of the world were born in a single country (the United States) and in a single decade (from 1831 to 1840). Out of fairness to the author, I won't reveal what-dun-it. But here's a hint for the latter two: Think of what else was happening in the world when these people came of age. Gladwell also presents an interesting analysis of why individuals who might have become outliers fail to do so. He suggests why most of the so-called geniuses discovered by Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman on the basis of their sky-high IQs did not accomplish anything of particular note; why Californians missed by Terman in the early 1900s became presidents (Nixon) or Nobel prize winners (William Shockley); and why the man reputed to be the smartest in the world, one Chris Langan, is a ne'er-do-well. If certain forces in the environment raise the likelihood of success (e.g., the birth of a new industry whose requirements mesh with one's strengths), their absence (in the case of Langan, few positive role models, mentors or peers with whom to interact) can undermine its possibility. When Gladwell turns his attention to the success of certain ethnic groups, he is less persuasive. It is well known that Jews people became leading lawyers in New York in the latter half of the 20th century, and that Asian youth outscore other groups on tests of mathematical ability. In attempting to tease out the contributory factors, Gladwell stresses that Jewish parents were often in the garment industry and that for centuries Chinese had to eke out a living in tiny rice paddies. "What redeemed the life of a rice farmer," he notes "was the nature of that work. It was a lot like the garment work by the Jewish immigrants to New York. ... There is a clear relationship in rice farming between effort and reward." These examples seem contrived. Gladwell wants to link the way that Jews and Asians went about prototypical jobs with the outsized achievements of their progeny. In my view, the long-lived, continuous survival of these literate ethnic groups is far more likely the cause of their children's success than the kind of work that happened to be done by earlier generations. At times, in his laudable effort to critique biological arguments, especially the idea that talent is dispensed by the luck of the genetic draw, Gladwell goes too far. He is enamored of the claim in the psychological literature that expertise depends on 10 years and 50,000 hours of practice. That may be generally correct. But researchers conveniently do not consider what it takes to apply oneself so assiduously and, in particular, why one would want to work so hard if one was not progressing rapidly to the head of the class. Yo-Yo Ma did not just practice a lot; his progress from one lesson to another, from one concert to the next, was spectacular. And so, too, for Tiger Woods, Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein and other famous outliers. Gladwell places the nature of talent inside a lock box, conceding its importance but making no effort to explain what it is or how it emerges. That is unfortunate because, in the end, practice does not suffice for the most remarkable achievements. Only as we discover just what it is in the genes, the brain, the personality and the motivational system that distinguishes Mozart from Salieri or Chris Langan from other high-IQ types such as, for instance, the great mathematician John von Neumann or the unabomber Theodore Kaczyinski, will we fill in the untold chapters of the outlier story. Still, Gladwell reveals his special genius in the remarkable trilogy completed by "Outlier." It is not in defining a problem: The phenomena he studies have long fascinated laypeople and scholars. Nor is it in providing a tight, scientific synthesis: That achievement belongs to the rare, focused scholar. Rather, it is in spotting remarkable jewels in the vast rock collection of social-science research and placing them expertly into an exquisite setting. Alas, his autobiographical coda to the book does not reveal how he has attained this singular skill; the secret of his talent remains to be explicated, secure for the time being in its lockbox. But we do understand far better the familial, historical and cultural factors that made one Malcolm Gladwell possible. Howard Gardner is the author of many books, including "Creating Minds" and "Extraordinary Minds." Reviewed by Howard Gardner, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Outliers is riveting science, self-help, and entertainment, all in one book. (Grade: A)" Entertainment Weekly
"Thought-provoking, entertaining, and irresistibly debatable, Outliers offers lively stories about an unexpected range of exceptional people....Overall, it's another winner from this agile social observer." The Christian Science Monitor
"[T]he author's lively storytelling and infectious enthusiasm make it an engaging, perhaps even inspiring, read. Sure to be a crowd-pleaser." Kirkus Reviews
"Following a format similar to his previous books, Gladwell gloms onto an apparent phenomenon...and offers what we're all apparently supposed to believe are startlingly logical explanations for why they stand out....It's all very readable, but not particularly surprising." Library Journal
"Ultimately, Outliers is a book about the 20th century. It offers a fascinating look at how certain people became successful, but it doesn't solve the problem of how to help others equal their achievement." The Boston Globe
"The book, which purports to explain the real reason some people — like Bill Gates and the Beatles — are successful, is peppy, brightly written and provocative in a buzzy sort of way. It is also glib, poorly reasoned and thoroughly unconvincing." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
Gladwell embarks on an intellectual journey through the world of "outliers" — the best and the brightest and the most successful. He investigates what makes high-achievers different by looking at their culture, family, generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing.
About the Author
Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer for The New Yorker. He was formerly a business and science reporter at the Washington Post. His earlier books were the national bestsellers The Tipping Point and Blink.
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