Outliers review

The book review page finally started at the beginning of this month, and so far things have been quite good. While the book selection could be a bit more recent, most of the titles have been very decent. The best book I’ve reviewed, and the biggest name, is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

As many know, Gladwell also wrote Tipping Point and Blink, both of whom were major bestsellers which focused on and illuminated specific social behavior. Outliers is about success, and its main idea is a lofty one. Success is not due to random chance or individual talent, but about set conditions and factors based on a person’s background, culture and society. These factors include the time a person grows up in, the type of culture and society a person lives in, the amount of prosperity and social training that a person gets from his/her family. This may sound a bit elitist, or even insidious (like money and family background determines success in life), but Gladwell utilizes a lot of examples, facts, and most importantly scientific studies to back up his argument.

You’ll get some gems in the book.  Such as that success in life doesn’t just depend on pure academic intelligence but social intelligence, which is about one’s ability and awareness of how to interact with others (chapter 4-trouble with geniuses part 2).  Or that success isn’t about just having opportunities, but making the most of them and exploiting them to the fullest. Gladwell gives us his 10,000 hour rule (chapter 2) which states that most successful people become so due to spending about 10,000 hours of their lives practicing the skills in the field that they achieve their success in . For instance, Bill Gates had access to computers from a young age, due to some wealthy and smart school parents and his fortuitous proximity to computer labs at the university. He kept at his computer programming, and in due time, he had amassed about 10,000 hours doing this.

Of course, Gladwell seems to have made some reaches in his assumptions. He is a smart writer, who while for the most part makes some very convincing arguments in a clear manner using evidence and scientific research, also ties up some disparate facts and anecdotes and links them to form ideas that perhaps aren’t so valid. For instance, his final chapter on his mother tries to show how one’s success isn’t determined just by oneself but by factors such as the times one lives in, and one’s family background, both of which benefited his mother and helped her gain some privileges in life like a tertiary education in the UK. Yet these factors, while true, are random in the sense that the person who these factors affect has absolutely no control over them. So in a sense this goes back to the notion of random luck or chance playing a role in success, which Gladwell tries to refute.

There is a very interesting chapter which highlights the role of culture, specifically cultural tendencies and attitudes, in affecting proficiency in doing tasks such as specifically flying planes (chapter 7). The following chapter on performing well in maths is also interesting though maybe not as solid.

Outliers is a very good book with a lot of strong and provocative points. It will be worth the time, effort and expense to get it.

The link to the Outliers review I wrote for my paper can be found on the Articles page.