Friday, November 21, 2008

Review: Outliers

Outliers: The Story of Success
by Malcolm Gladwell


Published by: Little, Brown, & Company
Pages: 320
ISBN-13: 9780316017923
Genre: General Nonfiction


Gladwell attempts to explain the untold reasons why successful people become successful.


Where to begin? Overall, I'd say this is an interesting book that is definitely worth reading, especially if you like nonfiction. Gladwell's basic premise is that successful people become successful because they take advantage of opportunities that are given to them---not because they are the smartest. And yes, I would generally agree with this. I thought there were some interesting examples of this: the hockey-player birthdays, the 10,000-hours factor, Chris Langdon... His break down of the failures of the pilots of the Korean plane crash was really interesting and pointed---I also thought the discussion of the effects of power-distance levels was really interesting. I almost wish he'd write a book about airline industry failures.

But here is my problem with the book: it is presented as fact, but it is not. He uses anecdotal evidence, which makes for a great story---which I enjoy, don't get me wrong---but does little to serve as evidence. He bases his claims on other's works, but has done no study himself. (I suppose this is typical of this type of book? I don't read enough of it to be sure.) In a quick read his "thesis" seems airtight, but I'm sure with closer scrutiny his arguments would break down. Also, the tone was not working for me---but this is a personal gripe with style. The "narrator" just seemed arrogant and a little too horrified by his own findings. Nothing he is arguing is really all that surprising to me, it is more of a reminder of the obvious (which is sometimes necessary). Successful people had help along the way! Successful people got lucky! Successful people had more opportunities! I mean isn't that why we have various government programs? To help those people that don't get those advantages? that aren't even in a place to get lucky?

But, despite that the book still makes some really good points: the nature of success is something worth thinking about.

*Edit: After some more thought, I realized that what Gladwell is trying to say is that we need to rethink how we structure the programs that help less fortunate people---that the current ways of thinking about how to help people be successful aren't based on the "common sense" he has pointed out. That even though his examples seem like common sense, reality is actually more complicated. This is definitely an argument I can get behind. So, who is going to write the book explaining how to restructure government programs? I'd like to read that.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5. Recommended.

1 comment:

Debbie said...

Hmmm...I was debating buying this book for my Kindle to read during holiday travels. Now I'm thinking maybe I should just request it from the library. I realized some of the comments you made about his style of writing were things I remembered about his other book, The Tipping Point. Not sure it's worth spending $10 on this. Thanks for the review!