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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoy, but don't plan your life on it
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...
Published 22 months ago by Mac McAleer

57 of 62 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very pretty. But, can it fight?
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...
Published on 7 Jan. 2011 by Allen Baird

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stating the Obvious, 24 Dec. 2009
M. Nair (Glasgow) - See all my reviews
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Had high expectations about this book given its reviews and mention of how it would change one's life and make you feel clever. Unfortunately, none of that happened. "Outliers" should probable be best seen as a collection of anecdotes and observations...some interesting, some bland, many unrelated.

The stated theme of finding out the 'cause of success' doesnt really get fleshed out. What is essentially being paraded is the idea that success is multi-factorial, depends not just on genius/talent but on luck, timing, circumstance, perseverence.Totally radical! This is repeated often and in sometimes monotonous detail.

The bits about the Ice-Hockey Team and Air Safety are the most interesting ones. But again there is no unifying link. The former looks at a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy in sport selection while the latter is simply assessing performance issues among professionals that would find a better place in a book about management or communications. All in all, a bit disjointed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars No great insights, 4 Sept. 2009
In this book we get presented with the following scenario, 9 times:

Malcolm Gladwell tells us anecdote A which seemingly makes no sense (What the heck is going on here?!). Then Malcolm Gladwell gives us the result of a totally cool scientific study B which explains A, and then gives us the result of another cool study C which tells us more about things like A.

Aren't we smart now ?! After all we know B and C!

Well, sometimes the B's and C's seems a little obvious and sometimes the B's and C's seems a little too farfetched to be used to explain the A's.

I propose to rename the book 'Random Anecdotes and such' to capture how weird it is that all these anecdotes somehow ended up being in the same book.

PS. To be fair to Malcolm Gladwell, I have to say that the book is well-written and enjoyable. 'Like a hit of the crack pipe'-enjoyable, 'I'm gonna kill me some time'-enjoyable.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Series of remarkably unremarkable observations, 4 Nov. 2012
Once I've started a book I don't like to stop short of finishing it but this one required real perseverance to get through.
To be fair, the first two chapters contained the vaguely interesting observations that hockey players born just after the January 1 cutoff day fared better, and the '10,000 hour rule'. However, there is nothing of note which isn't contained in the amazon description. He just sort of rams the point home over and over, with painstakingly laborious examples. In fact, I've literally told you everything you need to know about the book. Well, that and the fact the the Beatles spent some time playing all-nighters in Hamburg before they got big.

The rest of the book is filled with massive (though, in fairness, not entirely unjustified) cultural stereotypes (Jews are hard working, East Asians are better at maths etc). He prunes and frames his examples so they tenuously fit his overly neat and simplistic conclusions - ah, so all plane crashes are due to pilots coming from countries with a low 'power distance index' (throughout the book, you will find Gladwell over complicates things by using terms like this for otherwise simple ideas), are they? great. Why don't we just save ourselves the bother and hire Gladwell to run our airline safety programs?

Most of the conclusions which he draws are mind-numbingly boring and obvious from the start of the (unnecessarily long and convoluted) chapters. Right, so you mean that the more you practice, the more likely you are to succeed? I never would have guessed. And poor people living in poverty have to work harder to earn a wage? crazy stuff Malcolm... What's next? Black people have darker skin? Chinese people come from China?

From what I can make out from other reviews, the central theme is that talent alone does not bring success (what, so we actually have to work to achieve things?), but to be honest there is very little coherence between individual chapters.

I just cannot understand this book getting any critical acclaim. Just have a look the synopsis on amazon and spend your time reading something more worthwhile. I'm glad I got this book from the library, because I would be very annoyed if I had actually paid for it. I think Gladwell must have spent 10,000 hours nattering on about some boring old anecdotes, because he's certainly mastered that.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars When did Gladwell get so PC?!, 12 May 2009
Gladwell seems totally unaware of twin & adoption studies showing the degree to which behavioural traits, including intelligence, are largely hereditary.

In terms of Asian Math success he notes:

"Rice farming lays out a cultural pattern that works beautifully when it comes to math...Rice farming is the most labor-intensive form of agriculture known to man. It is also the most cognitively demanding form of agriculture"

This is fine, but Gladwell looks purely at cultural effects. What has been indicated in books like 'A Farewell to Alms' is that the most effective farmers tended to have the most children & hence there was genetic change in the population (selection for certain traits).

Recent research shows that with the advent of agriculture and population growth genetic developments have sped up over the past 10,000-15,000 years (see 'The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution'). Particularly, some of the changes are associated with brain & axon growth:

"The sweeping alleles we see are mostly regional - you see them in one group and not the other two. A fair fraction are neurological and likely to affect behavior in some way. For example, you see new versions of SLC6A4, a serotonin transporter, in Europeans and Asians. There's a new version of a gene (DBA1) that shapes the development of the layers of the cerebral cortex in east Asia."

Further, one of the genes associated with ADHD (DRD4) is rare to nonexistent in East Asia. A recent hypothesis suggests that the absence of 7R in East Asia is recent, consequent to the establishment of powerful polities that allowed population growth and forced agricultural intensification. PNAS January 8, 2002 vol. 99 no. 1 10-12

Also, Gladwells theory about rice growing seems a little inconsistent. Do the inhabitants of rice-growing southern China outperform the inhabitants of northern China in math? Northern China for millennia has been a wheat/millet/small grain-producing region rather than a rice region. Do Beijingers get beaten by Shainghainese on international math tests? Gladwell avoids this issue in a footnote and claims that "we don't know" if northern Chinese are good at math.

Gladwell also skips over studies showing East Asians perform about as well as their biological peers even when adopted into white households. Does culture explain this?

The explanation for Jewish success in the legal & other professions is similarly fanciful. He overlooks the most well documented explanation:

Psychologists and educational researchers have pegged their average IQ at 107.5 to 115. That's only modestly higher than the overall European average of 100, but the gap is large enough to produce a huge difference in the proportion of of those with high levels of cognitive ability. When a group's average IQ is 100, the percentage of people above 140 is 0.4%; when the average is 110, the genius rate is 2.3%.

Cochran & Harpending at University of Utah noted that European Jews were forbidden to work in many of the common jobs of the Middle Ages from 800 to 1700 CE, such as agriculture, and subsequently worked in high proportion in professions such as finance and trade, some of which were forbidden to non-Jews by the church. Those who performed better are known to have raised more children to adulthood passing on their genes in greater proportion than those who performed less successfully.

G. Cochran, J. Hardy, H. Harpending, Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence, Journal of Biosocial Science 38 (5), pp. 659-693 (2006).

One good thing about the book is showing that their are numerous background factors involved in a person's success. I particularly liked the discussion of the research on 10,000 hours to mastery.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Over-hyped Book with a Lack of Convincing Conclusions, 17 Aug. 2014
D. Haven "DvdH" (Hoofddorp, Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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To be honest, I still don't get the point of this book. Chapter after chapter, the same statement is made, that success in life is more to do with where you come from than with anything else. So what? Are we supposed to become all defaitist about this now, as we cannot really influence our fate in life? As so often in american books of this type, it is dense in quoting from all sorts of random research, which makes it at times tiring to read. Anecdotes that may or may not be convincing provide for some more relaxed reading, but the author's conclusions (if any) are often not convincing. So the Chinese are better at maths because they have an easier system of naming their numbers? And why does that then all of a sudden apply to all Asians, even though not all Asian languages share the same feature?
I just don't see what the hype about this book is about.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Less Visible Sides of Success with Some Detailed Examples, 4 Feb. 2009
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 127,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
Early advantages plus talent plus lots of practice plus a good social heritage plus a large opportunity help people succeed. That's this book in a nutshell as described in a series of New Yorker style articles. As told, the story is much more entertaining than that, but I want you to get the essence. Mr. Gladwell knows how to pick and spin a story to make it appealing and intriguing, and he has done well on those dimensions here.

The book will inspire people to want to help others accomplish more. Any parent, any teacher, any coach, or anyone interested in improving society will find something stimulating here.

Let me give you a quick overview:

1. Mr. Gladwell draws his inspiration for this book from the studies of Roseto, Pennsylvania by Dr. Stewart Wolf and sociologist John Bruhn that established how social factors can improve or harm health. Mr. Gladwell wants to similarly expand our vision of what affects success beyond the sense that "raw talent" and "privilege" help.

2. Mr. Gladwell uses the birth dates of athletes to establish that annual cutoff dates for teams benefit those born closer to the cutoff date. This principle also affects school children. As a result, the older children in a cohort do better and get more attention. Mr. Gladwell proposes having more anniversary dates so that more youngsters will get early access to help and attention.

3. Mr. Gladwell tells us the background of Bill Joy, one of the great computer programming geniuses of all time. In the story, he points out that mastery of most disciplines requires 10,000 hours of practice. Mr. Joy got that practice at a young age because he had access to time sharing on a mainframe when most programmers didn't. The practice point is buttressed by a study of violinists that correlates how much they practiced to their ultimate success. Then, Mr. Gladwell pulls in the Beatles and Bill Gates as examples to support his point. He also looks at the frequency of accumulating large wealth to notice it is concentrated in one time period in one country.

4. From there, he gives us the sad story of a genius who hasn't been able to use his life for very much other than to win on a television game show, Christopher Langan. Mr. Gladwell goes on to argue that you have to be talented enough to succeed, but that talent level falls far below the genius level.

5. Mr. Gladwell next points out that parenting matters. Mr. Langan had little help there, but many privileged youngsters get enormous assistance which provides direct help and makes them more assertive.

6. Joe Flom is profiled next to describe his background before becoming the head of a major New York Law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom. Great emphasis is placed on his being Jewish, so he couldn't work in the "white shoe" firms that didn't want to get their hands dirty with hostile takeovers; being born when takeover lawyers could do well; and being born into a family with a social heritage of prospering in the garment trade (a very exacting business that rewarded hard work and attention to detail).

7. Mr. Gladwell expands on the idea of a sociological legacy in part two, beginning with the apparent roots of Southern family feuds (think of the Hatfields and the McCoys). He next takes a look at how such social patterns appear to have affected airline safety (with a close look at Korean Air and an Avianca plane that crashed when it ran out of fuel). He then jumps across the globe to argue that the Chinese language's structure of words that involve numbers and the work involved in cultivating rice explain the advantages that many Southern Chinese students have in math over students in other parts of the world.

8. The story moves into its prescriptive stage in describing the results of an experimental public school in the South Bronx that helped youngsters get the structure and discipline they need to succeed . . . with very good results.

9. The book concludes with a look at Mr. Gladwell's Jamaican roots and how those contributed to his success.

Mr. Gladwell is such a provocative and intriguing writer that it seems rude to make any suggestions for possible improvement. However, I will be so bold as to comment on the ideas and the evidence.

1. Mr. Gladwell doesn't seem to take liking the task into account as a success factor. Most of us could eat chocolate candy until 10,000 hours had occurred. But how many of us like any other task that much that can be turned into a valuable form of human achievement? Without such liking, I suspect that much success won't occur. Self-discipline in the absence of liking will just lead to early burnout.

2. Mr. Gladwell seems a little confused about the contribution Bill Gates has made to software. Mr. Gladwell tells the Gates story as though Gates is another Bill Joy. Gates is more of a corporate strategist than a programming success. The famous programs on which Microsoft's success was based were drawn primarily from the work of programmers who weren't even at Microsoft.

3. In the airline crash examples, there is also a lot of research about how crews in all countries defer too much to the captains. Although that research is mentioned in passing, I felt like Mr. Gladwell was overstating his point. The issue in the Avianca crash was strongly related to not speaking American-style English with comfort. I think the book would have been stronger without the airline crash examples.

4. When you are writing about success (even as "outliers"), it makes sense to spend a little more time thinking about what you want to focus on. This book jumps from looking at geniuses who do things that benefit everyone (like Bill Joy) to people who just happen to make a lot of money (Joe Flom). If Mr. Gladwell had stuck with Bill Joy-type examples, I think this book would have been a lot more helpful.

5. If these points are so important, wouldn't it make sense to have the bulk of the book prescribe what to do differently? Mr. Gladwell doesn't take that part very seriously. As a result, the book is more entertainment than call to action.

6. By stringing together a series of article-style chapters, the book ends up being a bit choppy to read and follow.

I do recommend you read the book, and I hope that Mr. Gladwell will write a follow-up book that is prescriptive.

Thank you for much food for thought, Mr. Gladwell!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A great read but not very enlightening, 24 Aug. 2009
I must confess that this book was a real page turner. Gladwell writes in beautifully fluid language that made the book difficult to put down. I was reading the book on a pretty beach and kept finding myself wanting to read the next chapter rather than going for a dip in the sea! A real page turner.

I was, however, disappointed that the book didn't contain more by way of lessons. I expected there to be something I could take away from the book, but there were none of those pointers or tips.

Consequently, I recommend that you read this book because it's compelling and flowing and entertaining. Don't expect to learn anything about yourself though. I would liken the book to a sugary snack - yummy as you enjoy it, but empty calories that leave you no better off.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The nature/nurture debate in new guise, 22 Jan. 2009
R. Chang (London, UK) - See all my reviews
I was given a copy for Christmas. It is well written and easy to read. I cannot help thinking when I have finished that the book is just another example of the nature/nuture debate in new guise. Malcolm Gladwell appears to be rather good at dressing old concepts in new clothes (see his book on the Tipping Point). He makes the point that, after a threshold of innate ability is passed, it is the environment or life's opportunities and hard work that make the difference between major success and the also ran. One cannot feel that some of the "life's opportunities" present themselves because of ones forebears' innate ability. Further is the ability to work hard an inherited innate character or largely derived from the environment.
If he was arguing for a new approach in social policy, I do not think he succeeded.
I have a pragmatic approach in this debate - both nature and nurture are important. Where there is leveling of innate abilities, then the environment will make the difference. Conversely, when the environment factors have been levelled, then inherited innate abilities will make the difference.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as the other two, 28 Dec. 2008
I read Blink and the Tipping Point, both of which were excellent. After reading a section of the book in the Guardian I was pleased to receive this for christmas. I rattled through it, and there's some interesting stuff. However, there's about enough material for the magazine article, and little more. He comes up with his theory, throws a few case studies at it, and that's it. The basic theory is that your background is as important as your skills - that geniuses have to be lucky too. Not really as sophisticated or interesting as the other books - maybe it's because the "nature v nurture" debate has been going on for ages and he doesn't add a lot that's new.

Fluffy Little Kitten in Fluffy Little Kitten Falls Over
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun anecdotal book which gives pause for thought., 31 Aug. 2011
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I enjoy reading Malcolm Gladwell, though find it important to take his writing for what it is: as an inspiration to think along his lines. His books tend to be somewhat drawn out, with long anecdotes to support his claims. Although somewhat tedious at times, they serve to help the reader remember his key points.
The book serves as a counterweight to popular media articles and books on how to achieve success fast and easily, by showing that the biggest successes have been a process of hard work and the ability to grasp opportunities.
Well worth the read, though look elsewhere for rigorous analysis and tests of his claims. That is not Gladwell's forte.
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