Friday, December 10, 2010

Review: Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell

My brother recommended this book to me, and while I was a little hesitant to pick it up (because fiction is much more my style, generally), I can't say enough good things about this book.  Seriously.  Speaking as someone who is finding herself having to read "professional" nonfiction, Gladwell is an excellent writer with the uncanny ability to tie statistics to stories to make an easy and interesting read.

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Gladwell seeks to understand why some people are successful.  Americans have long bought into the rags-to-riches story of personal success, i.e. "I worked hard and made it in the real world."  While Gladwell doesn't discount the idea of hard work = success, he does find that all too often, it is the set of circumstances behind a person that has just as much of an influence on his/her success in a given field.

For example, Bill Gates is brilliant and worked hard and is now a zillionaire.  No one would argue with that.  What some poeple might not realize, however, is that Gates had an early exposure to software development that paved the way for him to become an expert at programming when he was still a teenager, an exposure that had as much to do with his success as his work ethic and brains. 

The book is filled with examples of how circumstances dictate success--the old, "Luck is opportunity meeting preparation" adage springs often to mind.  The only (minor) complaint I have about Outliers is about the "so what" factor.  From what I understand, a log of Gladwell's other work is psychological in nature with a dash of self-help.  Outliers is much more political in nature, pointing out that where kids go to school can have everything to do with their success in life--but it stops just short of being a manifesto.  He doesn't call for reformation so much as point out that inadequacies exist, and some might say he's just giving fodder to those chip-on-the-shoulder individuals who might read it.

Still, it's an excellent read, even for those of you who, like me, generally prefer fiction.

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