Saturday, January 3, 2009

2 - Outliers: The Story of Success; Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers is book about how culture and community appear to be greater determinants of individual success than talent or even will. It's about how successful people, "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. . . . It's not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn't."

Outliers begins with a look at why certain five-year-old boys enjoy an advantage in ice hockey, simply because they are born in the first 3 months of the year, and because of that advantage, they are generally bigger than their peers who were born at the end of the year. It explains how these advantages accumulate over time. We learn what Bill Gates, the Beatles and Mozart had in common: along with talent and ambition, each enjoyed an unusual opportunity to intensively cultivate a skill that allowed them to rise above their peers.

The author even compares 2 geniuses to show that middle and upper-class children have more opportunities to succeed. He compares the lives of two geniuses -- Christopher Langan, a man with an IQ of 195 who was virtually shut out of higher education: he grew up in poverty and says he was beaten by his stepfather from when he was almost six to when he was about fourteen. The other individual was Robert Oppenheimer, who grew up with every advantage, tried to poison his mentor at Cambridge University and was still allowed to continue his studies. The author dismisses the notion that the "gifted child" who scores at the top of intelligence tests has advantages. He states that some smarts are necessary for success, beyond a certain level they don't give any addition advantages. He also tells us that since life is so unpredictable, "luck" to a certain extent plays a role in determining someones success, in addition to being born at the right time, to the right social class, or being in the right place at the right time.

I enjoyed this book, however, I thought it was a bit strange that all of his examples were male-based. He either chose not to address the topic of successful women, or maybe successful women do not fit into this model? I guess I'll just have to continue to wonder about that one!

RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED - 1/3/09 (audio book)
Where From - LIBRARY

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review! I was so intrigued by the examples Gladwell did include, I never thought to question why he didn't include female examples as well.

    Perhaps the relative lack of hugely successful women in the fields he explores exactly proves his point: there IS a cultural bias that privileges some talented folks over others. (If you want to be a pro hockey player, be a BOY with a birthday in January. If you want to be a computer entrepreneur, be a BOY born in the 1950s, etc.)

    I found you via the Audiobook Challenge. I listened to Outliers a few weeks ago but haven't gotten around to reviewing it: I have a handful of other audiobooks to review before I get to it! I figure I'll catch up by the end of the year...


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