- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st Edition edition (Nov. 18 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780316017923
- ISBN-13: 978-0316017923
- ASIN: 0316017922
- Product Dimensions: 14.3 x 2.5 x 21 cm
- Shipping Weight: 431 g
- Average Customer Review: 158 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #848 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Outliers: The Story of Success Hardcover – Nov 18 2008
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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
Quill & Quire
Outliers seems, initially, to be an inadvisable pairing of author and subject. Malcolm Gladwell, staff writer for that august cultural magazine, The New Yorker, and author of two exemplary pop-science bestsellers, The Tipping Point and Blink, goes and writes a book on success – thus entering a subgenre whose foul-smelling precincts are overrun with charlatans, profiteers, and New Age fakirs. But, happily for him and us, he’s skirted ignominy by having written not some exhortative how-to guide, but a sober and far-ranging investigation of human achievement that rebuts some received wisdom on the subject. Gladwell begins by arguing that those “self-made” individuals we romanticize, who come from nothing and rise to the pinnacle of their chosen vocations on merit alone, simply don’t exist. Instead, he insists, high achievers “are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies” that ultimately determine their status. Moreover, these same people who capitalize on their early good luck work much harder than their rivals; mastery in any calling, apparently, only arrives after 10,000 hours of training and study (a rather less appealing prospect than the wish-yourself-wealthy-and-fabulous strategy promulgated by The Secret). While it’s hardly a revelation that toil and connections and serendipity beget professional reward, Gladwell provides a surfeit of curious, even alarming, examples to prop up his thesis. In the course of his discussion, we learn that 40% of elite hockey players are born between January and March; that off-the-chart geniuses, collectively, accomplish no more in life than their randomly sampled peers; that contentious and irreverent flight crews are less likely to crash planes than deferential ones; that Asian students’ excellence in mathematics owes much to rice-based agriculture. Gladwell’s writing is clear and colloquial throughout, and his chapters are deftly structured, each one introducing new material while simultaneously reiterating and amplifying what came before. But after plowing through the dramatic anecdotes and gee-whiz factoids, adult readers are left to contend with the desolating assertion that the quality of their lives was determined decades ago by ancestral migration patterns or a summertime birthday or skipped piano lessons. In the end, I was yearning for some consoling piffle about, say, dream analysis or Mayan numerology, to convince me, however briefly, that the world could still be mine for the taking.See all Product description
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It was well worth reading, and has stayed with me since doing so - I recommend it to anyone concerned with understanding the realities of success as defined economically.
For other kinds of success, especially financial, its often a matter of being at the right place, at the right time, with the right skills, to catch and ride an emerging trend in the financial world (e.g., railroads in 1850, clothing in 1930, software 1970, hostile take-overs 1980, etc.). Gladwell is clear that the leaders in these areas were all talented, driven people. But that doesn't change the fact that born five years earlier or later, they'd probably be nowhere near as successful as they are today. While he doesn't mention him, I like Darwin as an example. He was brilliant and hard working, but Alfred Wallace came up with (virtually) the same idea of evolution as he did. And Darwin was big enough at that time that Wallace sent him a draft copy to review. If Darwin had come along later, he would have been scooped. If he hadn't been as big as he was in biology then (thanks to non-evolutionary work), he would never have seen the manuscript. As it turned out, he gave Wallace co-credit, but that's another story. The point is that coincidental circumstance played as big a role in who published the theory of evolution by natural selection, and when it was published, as the characteristics of Darwin himself.
For me, the bottom line is that hard work and talent are very important, but so is looking out for those unique trends that might allow you to catch a wave and do something extraordinary with your life. Whether or not that will happen is a function of luck, but it's certainly important to be prepared should you ever get the chance. Overall, the book is very easy to read, and full of really good ideas. I found the last couple of chapters on math to be the weakest, but it's still a great book to read. Highly recommended.
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