Outliers: The Story of Success
by Malcolm Gladwell
The author of #1 international bestsellers The Tipping Point and Blink is a staff writer for The New Yorker and was formerly a business and science reporter at the Washington Post. Malcolm Gladwell’s one of the very few authors kind enough to consider his readers by offering a definition of his chosen title in the first paragraph of the book. I’ll do the same for you in my second paragraph.
Out-li-er \ noun 1. something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body 2. a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample.
After reading several chapters, I found myself identifying outliers as those men and women with skills, talent, and drive who do things out of the ordinary. We’ve all known someone like this from school, work, church or the neighborhood. We knew them—we just didn’t always understand them or how they managed to reach such levels of performance so effortlessly. It left us wondering why 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 appear in their cribs as aggressive life changers ready to take on and conquer the challenges of the world as we know it.
The author claims: “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.”
In this book the author continues to do what he does best—illuminating secret patterns behind everyday phenomena. He does so while sharing examples from every aspect of our lives.
He examines the lives of outliers from Mozart to Bill Gates, building the convincing case for how successful people rise on a tide of advantages, “some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky.”
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.
Read this book if you’d like to learn:
- Why most pro hockey players were born in January.
- How many hours of practice it takes to master a skill (10,000 hours).
- How a pilot’s culture impacts his/her crash record.
- What Bill Gates, the Beatles and Mozart had in common.
- Why the descendents of Jewish immigrant garment workers became the most powerful lawyers in New York.
- How a centuries-old culture of rice farming helps Asian kids master math.
- The reasons for school achievement gaps.
Malcolm Gladwell expounds on how the world could benefit if more of our kids were granted the opportunities to fulfill their remarkable potential.
Like his previous work, Outliers is a thought-provoking, category-defying book. It is also available in audio form read by the author.
(This book review was originally published in 2009 as one of the Top 10 Books – Edition 20.)