Outliers

outliers malcolm gladwell little brown and company 2008Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, 2/5

Holy cherry-picked data, Batman!  At least it’s hand-picked, I guess?  That is about the nicest thing I can say for this book, which, though entertaining, smells like bad science.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think I’ve been exposed to enough good research and logical reasoning (thank you Daniel Kahneman and David Hackett Fisher) to recognize the sketchy stuff.  The thesis is all over the place, ending with a laughable call to action that sounds great on the surface (let’s give everyone the same opportunities in life so they can all achieve success) but is idiotic in context (let’s wave our enlightened magic fairy wand and give everyone identical backgrounds, community, family legacy, historical timing, interests and skills, so everyone can be super successful genius millionaires).  Frustratingly, this book’s popularity was inevitable–who doesn’t like to read a good success story AND be told that it isn’t all due to talent, you unluckily ordinary human being with untold potential, you.

Why I read it: Heard about it from my Dad, who thought it would be fun if I read it (I’ve been avoiding Gladwell for years).

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2 comments

  1. Kevin

    I generally agree with your review of the book though I wish you would have given a nod to the tremendous value that could be learned from it- particularly the 10,000 hours all of the outliers spent towards their seemingly arbitrary success. Or like the Chinese proverb quoted in the book, “No one who rises before dawn 360 days a year fails to make his family rich.” That and the fact that the harder I work, the luckier I get… which could almost be an appropriate sub-title for the book.

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    • omniRambles

      I want to love the 10,000 hours thing, but sadly it’s been refuted to a large extent, I think. Just Google “10,000 hours.” Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not a useful concept, just likely not as simple and scientific as Gladwell makes it sound. Based on our conversations on the topic, I think you will really like The Talent Code! Anyway, it’s interesting how different our two perspectives on the book are. The message I got from it was more “It doesn’t matter how hard you work if you’re not lucky.” If you’re interested in understanding criticism of the book, there is a pretty good summary on the book’s Wikipedia article that makes my review look positively kind. :O Thanks for the recommendation though, I don’t regret reading it and there were some very interesting parts. I know it will keep coming up and provoking thought in the future, which is cool.

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