Sunday, January 27, 2013

Review: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (2008)
[Photo courtesy of]

Writing about "outliers" (above-average people who somehow achieve some level of greatness), Malcolm Gladwell takes a fresh look at the subject of success that proves his own outlier status as someone who sees the world differently than those who came before him. 

He's not the first writer to write about success and the secret to what makes great people great, but he is the best I have read and certainly the most honest. 

Outliers is not a debunking as much as it's a demystifying; it's not a "myth of success" type of book. Yes, Gladwell acknowledges that successful people have certain qualities (passion, drive, perseverance) that give them a good chance at accomplishing things in life, but his main point is that they owe as much if not more to their particular circumstances. 

Luck, sure, but birth and history and the legacy of the things that came before them over which they could not possibly have any influence are what pave the path to greatness for these people.

Gladwell's main purpose seems to be to dispel the magical aura of success caused by our society's obsession with individualism. Americans tend to assume that successful people have some genius that is unique to them, and that is what makes them great. By looking at some specific riveting case studies (Bill Gates, Canadian hockey players), he makes it clear that intangible individual genius is simply not the case.

Most interestingly, he is candid about the heights he has reached in his career as a writer and 'thought leader', if there is such a thing, noting that he is the beneficiary of a lineage and lucky circumstances that brought his Jamaican family to Canada at just the right time for him to have opportunities that would not have been possible had some initial conditions been slightly different.

The result is an understanding of success and achievement that is richer and more real, because of its reliance on history, environment, and destiny. It's a whole new way of looking at the world. Fantastic reading for anyone.

5 stars.
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