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Outliers: The Story of Success Paperback – June 1, 2011
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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.
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"The explosively entertaining Outliers might be Gladwell's best and most useful work yet...There are both brilliant yarns and life lessons here: Outliers is riveting science, self-help, and entertainment, all in one book."―Gregory Kirschling, Entertainment Weekly
"No other book I read this year combines such a distinctive prose style with truly thought-provoking content. Gladwell writes with a high degree of dazzle but at the same time remains as clear and direct as even Strunk or White could hope for."―Atlanta Journal Constitution
About the Author
- Publisher : Back Bay Books; 1st edition (June 1, 2011)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0316017930
- ISBN-13 : 978-0316017930
- Lexile measure : 1080L
- Item Weight : 10.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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1.) Negative -- excessively so. Human deaths are treated like numbers, lives categorized as "success" or "failure" as if no shade of gray existed. One of the few "genius" cases studied, Chris Langan is portrayed as a failed human being for being unable to negotiate financial aid or a change in class schedule. The author conveniently treats his college dropout as his fault for lacking "savvy... to get what he wanted from the world." Gladwell compares Langan to Oppenheimer, making random connections to a scientist from a different era, jumping to conclusions in comparing two people that didn't even deal with the same problems. Providing painstaking second-by-second detail into the final moments of Korean Airlines' 801 crash. Belittling poor families for letting their children choose their own pastimes. Morbidly dramatizing the family feud between the Howards and the Turners, when the point of the chapter/lesson benefited from no such detail. There's such an obsession with death and negativity that I found the book difficult to digest and follow without compartmentalizing large chunks. The book drained me of any positivity and hope each time I read one of these startlingly negative case studies.
2.) Rambling -- small talk, irrelevant facts thrown in as gossip. History lessons and useless divergences abound. Wasted words, either to drive home points as dramatically as possible, or feign scientific expertise under the guise of trivia knowledge. The detailed who-killed-who in a family feud has no relevance to the topic at hand. I don't care how many cases of insanity a random educator studied in 1871, or how many people died on a plane crash. Even the aizuchi in a cockpit conversation seemed over-the-top. More than half of several pages in the book contain fine-print-sized sidenotes that constituted little more than divergences or parenthetical remarks, which, though, interesting, didn't add much credibility; on the contrary, it made it seem as if the author didn't take the time to cull irrelevance and move interesting topics into an appendix, or into the body of the text itself. An editor needed to take a fine-toothed comb and cut the fat by about half. Ultimately, when I found myself meandering down one of these divergences, I skipped entire paragraphs and pages to reach the thesis or the point.
3.) Jumping between vignettes with little to no transition. Chapters often begin with a long divergent story without introduction, without even stating the point or relevance to topic at hand. It was hard to get interested or invested in these stories because (a.) I knew these people were going to die, and (b.) there wasn't even the slightest hint as to why this story would be relevant. Then, before the author made the connection, he'd jump to another story, another divergence. For example, in studying the importance and influence of culture on plane crashes, the author jumped from a Korean Air cockpit to a discussion of Russia, to the cockpit of a flight from Dubai with Colombian crew, all without so much as a transition or thesis sentence. I was left wondering what happened to the Korean flight, then what it had to do with outliers -- particularly successful or bright people -- then assigning faces to more names, more cultural generalizations. The book is full of random jumps between scenes without so much as a transition. It was confusing and frustrating to parse.
4.) Unstatistical -- The book suffers from a heavy dose of WYSIATI -- What You See Is All There Is. Cases are brought into light conveniently when the author wants to make a point, and just as conveniently dismissed or not mentioned when they don't support the point. A study following families and the way they raise their children surveyed only 12 families (!) -- a minuscule sample size -- then makes generalizations about the influence of two parental styles: rich and entitled vs. poor and meek. Similarly, a case study on Marita in the KIPP Academy program focuses entirely on the positives of discipline in her schedule, without comment or perspective on its rigidity. Never mind that she had no more friends from her old school, or how much sleep she was losing. All that seemed to matter was the author's point that certain environments can elevate the poor. The prowess of Asian students in mathematics, compared to English-speaking Western children, is explained away by the shortness and ease-of-pronunciation of the Chinese words for numbers, without any brain studies, control groups, or consideration of cultural emphases on study and discipline. Langan is compared to Oppenheimer simply because the author was reminded of one of them when interviewing Langan. Many explanations, however convenient or logical, focus on a single fact or coincidence with little regard for alternatives or counter-arguments. With rare exceptions, statistics, when presented, don't seem to tie to any particular cited journal or brain study. When a conclusion is reached, it seems plausible only because the story - the tabloids, the drama, the convenience - seems solid, not because all the facts have been considered and the science consulted.
Overall, I don't feel like I came away from the book more enlightened or educated about the environments around geniuses or success stories. Instead, I felt like I finished watching a season of Encounters, live TV trying to explain phenomena like crop circles through random anecdotal accounts and sounding smart by mixing in some interviews. I don't recommend this book to the scientifically inclined.
Gladwell's book states early that success doesn't happen in a vacuum. It isn't based on intelligence, but on a variety of factors, and he uses multiple examples to demonstrate that we as a nation could have many more successful people in our country if we were to accept that it takes a village to make successes out of our children. In fact, he shows that hard work and opportunity in almost all cases are more important than intelligence.
One story tells of the Canadian hockey league and the fascinating statistic that the vast majority of all successful hockey players are born in January, February or March. Why? Because the cutoff date for signing children is January 1, and those born in the first three months have a distinct advantage in age, experience and size in relation to those they play against. That same cutoff date is used by other countries, such as the Czech Republic, for not only hockey but soccer as well, which means that children born in the later part of the year consistently are overlooked when it comes to team sports. It's a built-in bias.
These biases are all around us, and determine who succeeds or fails, constantly. In addition, the bias of a culture has a significant effect on how well a student does. Gladwell talks about the belief that Asians are better at math, which he shows is because their languages are more number-friendly, leading children to count earlier, and which make math simpler. In addition, he shows the inherent tradition of hard work of southern China had resulted in a work ethic for their descendants that continues today.
Many of the stories are supported with statistics. One of the most eye-opening to me was his observation of the impact on summer vacation. Statistics show that the amount that lower-, middle-, and upper-class students learn in elementary school each year isn't that significantly different. But when you compare what they learn or forget over summer vacation, there is a significant discrepancy. Upper-class parents keep their children busy with lessons and classes all summer, while in most situations lower and even middle-class students don't do much during the summer and often forget much of what they have learned the previous year. As the summers add up, the problem compounds. And so the difference between upper, middle and lower class widens.
The book is significant, easy to read, and extremely thought provoking. I highly recommend it.
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Despite being reported as being "inspiring" (it's literally on the front page), it's hard to see why. The book argues the point that success can be largely attributed to a person's circumstances. As most of these are out with anyone's control e.g. the time of year you are born, I struggle to see how anyone could be inspired. The best I can imagine is that someone will feel better that they were not the next success because of factors beyond their control.
The book tries to make its point by cherry picking studies and examples that will help prove his point. I found one response from authors of a study stating that they thought that Gladwell had misinterpreted and oversimplified their findings and I strongly suspect they were not alone. It presents a series of anecdotes and hypotheses as to why a trend was observed. My issue is that these hypotheses, that are all in keeping with the central theme of the book, are presented as if they were facts, when they are anything but. There is no attempt to give a balanced discussion, exploring arguments, studies or examples not in keeping with the oversimplified central point. Let's be clear, this method of starting with a point you want to make and then working backwards finding "evidence" to prove your view is journalism, not science. Gladwell can dress it up as much as he likes with statistics and citations, but don't be fooled, this is not how anyone with any scientific credentials works. Within a few pages I realised I was not reading a book by an expert in the field attempting to make their work accessible to the public, this was written by someone who could write a good story, but had little or no understanding of the scientific method. The book reads like an extended magazine article, perhaps not surprisingly as I was later to find out that the author is indeed a magazine writer.
You will not learn how to be successful by reading this book. You will not be better informed about what makes someone successful. At best this is a thought piece with a few discussion points worthy of a conversation at your next dinner party and others may enjoy the idea that they could have been as successful as The Beatles or as rich as Bill Gates if they had just been in the right place at the right time. Just a shame that it's not true. I didn't enjoy this book but more than that, I was incensed by it. This is journalism. A pseudoscience stretched out magazine article masquerading as an evidence based insight into success written by a modern day snake oil salesman who has bought into his own hype.
While I can see a different way of spinning the data provided to support Gladwell's argument, I didn't care. In a rare moment, I found myself not wanting to argue. : ) Instead, I found myself reflecting on things that have felt like lucky opportunities in my own life. This reflection was very humbling.
Moreover, I felt the text tugging at the need for greater equity. What could all the people with limited opportunities do if given greater opportunities? Think Darfur. How many people who might have come up with the cure for pancreatic cancer been forced to spend their time standing in lines waiting for clean water or food?
My own personal experience as a teacher of refugees reflects Gladwell's primary thesis. Many of my refugee students are pre-literate. They have not been given the opportunity to gain a formal education. As a result, there are many well-intended, but misinformed people who place these students in special education courses or deem their I.Q. low, diminishing their opportunities even more.
The students I teach are hungry for skills and spend hours outside of class practising. They make huge gains despite earlier opportunities denied them. While many will not go on to big colleges out of high school, I feel like given enough opportunity and time they could make it there. Sadly, many have families who depend on them to work to help financially support the family. (Yet, another limited opportunity to spend time focused on developing skills.)
In the past week, I have shared Gladwell's thesis with my students. We have applied the 10,000 hours to master a task to reading and writing. I remind students that if we don't get our 10,000 hours this year together, they must continue on their own. I remind them that it IS possible to move forward if they are focused and keep adding hours of work to their reading and writing. We even write on the board how many hours left before we are masters.
"2 hours down, only 9,998 left to go."
Friday, I had a student from Somalia smile and ask, "So it's not true that white people are smarter than black Africans? They just get more chances to read?" Imagine my pleasure when I could respond, "YES! That's correct. You are just as smart as any white kid in this school. It's just that some of them have been reading for years and you are just getting started."
Thank you for your work Gladwell, it is salient in today's political conversation surrounding education (especially for our most vulnerable students who have been given the fewest opportunities).
Things I liked:
- Interesting to read the stories of how various people came to success
- Well written
- Somewhat vindicating for those of us who already knew the dice were loaded
- How is this a revelation? I felt a bit like this was written for people who are themselves pretty advantaged. If come from a lowly background, with little money or good social connections etc, you KNOW that these things disadvantage you, and you KNOW that those who get ahead, do so because of these advantages.
- There was no follow through. I was expecting (and hoping for) a "but if you don't have these advantages, you can still do X, Y & Z". But there was nothing. So if you aren't advantaged, you end up feeling a bit flat at the end.
Summary: Worth a read