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Outliers: The Story of Success Paperback – 24 Jun 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 364 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (24 Jun. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141036257
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141036250
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (364 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 961 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

You will never again think as you did before about [success] ... This book deserves the gold star that adorns its front cover (The Times)

Malcolm Gladwell is a cerebral and jaunty writer, with an unusual gift for making the complex seem simple (Observer)

Makes geniuses look a bit less special, and the rest of us a bit more so (Time)

Gladwell deploys a wealth of fascinating data and information to illustrate his thesis ... Outliers challenges accepted wisdom (FT)

Review

'Gladwell deploys a wealth of fascinating data and information to illustrate his thesis ... Outliers challenges accepted wisdom.' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Format: Paperback
Perhaps the main problem with the book is its use of the word 'outliers' to refer to exceptional people, individuals who achieve so much more than others. It should instead refer to the exceptional circumstances that allowed them their meteoric rise to success. These factors - such as year and era of birth, family background, race and place of education - contain the quirks of fate that allow the merely talented to achieve the successes that lie so far outside the norm. This is Gladwell's major thesis.

Gladwell's target is the traditional American story of success: rugged individuals, by dint of hard work and raw talent - perspiration and inspiration - achieve those magnificent success levels that elude others. Instead, Gladwell wants to show the place of circumstances and situation in this story. He wants to give success a context beyond that of one man and his willpower. Fair enough.

In order to do this, Gladwell tells some stories of his own. Lots of them, in fact. The book is one, big collection of counter-cultural stories about the nature of specifically American success. By 'counter-cultural' I mean contrary to the 'rugged individual' myth described above. This story-method is Gladwell's greatest strength or weakness, depending of what you're looking for. Me, I wanted to read something fascinating, provocative, and launch-pad like. That's exactly what I got.

Most of Gladwell's detractors find his method of extreme induction - "Here's one case so that means there's a pattern" - infuriating. I find in fun. When I read a Gladwell book, I'm not on the lookout for rigorous sampling methods or objective self-criticism. Let's leave that to university textbooks, can't we? Gladwell does pop journalism with ideas and trends.
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Format: Paperback
Outlier is a term used in statistics for a data point that stands out from the rest of the sample and this book is about the outliers of success. Near the beginning of the book the author says "... there is something profoundly wrong with the way we make sense of success." There is always more to success than the magical, in-built brilliance of the successful and that is being at the right place, at the right time, having the right background, having the right mix of talents and being prepared to work hard with those talents.

This book is a series of anecdotal articles on success with some interesting insights. It is not a rigorous analysis and it has not found a new Law of Success.

If you are a young little league Canadian hockey player and you are good at the game make sure that your birthday comes just after the cut-off point of the annual selection date. That way you will be one of the oldest in the next year's selection. If you are a talented musician, work very very hard at your craft. If you were a New York lawyer make sure that you graduate when the type of business skills required is changing so that you can get in before the old established firms have time to come to terms with the new world. If you are interested in computer programming be of an age when mainframes make way for time-sharing machines so that you can get direct, un-mediated experience. If you are going to be clever, do not have an IQ off the scale but just a very good one and balance it with a good emotional; and social intelligence.

Halfway through the book the author says: "Can we learn something about why people succeed and how to make people better at what they do by taking cultural legacies seriously?
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Format: Hardcover
A criticism common to both Malcolm Gladwell's previous books, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking and The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, was that while they were packed with interesting, well told, anecdotes there was no consistent underlying theme to the stories; no particular lesson to be drawn. For example, of the many anecdotes recounted about "thin slicing" some (such as an art expert's ability to instantly assess the bona fides of a statue) suggested it was a special and important skill while others (an impulsive police decision to pursue and shoot dead a innocent bystander) suggested quite the opposite. You were left with the impression that, well, there are these things called snap judgements, and sometimes they work out, and sometimes they don't.

Clearly Malcolm Gladwell has taken those reservations to heart: in Outliers he has been scrupulous to sketch out an integrated underlying thesis and then (for the most part) array his anecdotes - which, as usual, are interesting enough - in support of it.

Unfortunately for him, the theory is a lemon. Nonetheless, the flyleaf is hubristic (and unimaginative) enough to claim "This book really will change the way you think about your life". It's not done that for me, but it has changed the way I think about Malcolm Gladwell's writing. And not for the better.

Gladwell has looked at some psychological research into success and genius and has concluded that, contrary to conventional wisdom, success isn't to be explained by raw talent.
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