Outliers: The Story of Success

Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of Success

Why are people successful? For centuries, humankind has grappled with this question, searching for the secret to accomplishing great things. In this stunning new book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an invigorating intellectual journey to show us what makes an extreme overachiever. He reveals that we pay far too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where successful people are from: their culture, their family, and their generation. Gladwell examines how the careers of Bill Gates and the performance of world-class football players are alike; what top fighter pilots and The Beatles have in common; why so many top lawyers are Jewish; why Asians are good at maths; and why it is correct to say that the mathematician who solved Fermat's Theorem is not a genius. Just as he did in Blink, Gladwell overturns many of our conventional notions and creates an entirely new model for seeing the world. 3.1 out of 5 based on 14 reviews
Outliers: The Story of Success

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Society, Politics & Philosophy
Format Hardback
Pages 256
RRP £16.99
Date of Publication November 2008
ISBN 978-1846141218
Publisher Allen Lane
 

Why are people successful? For centuries, humankind has grappled with this question, searching for the secret to accomplishing great things. In this stunning new book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an invigorating intellectual journey to show us what makes an extreme overachiever. He reveals that we pay far too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where successful people are from: their culture, their family, and their generation. Gladwell examines how the careers of Bill Gates and the performance of world-class football players are alike; what top fighter pilots and The Beatles have in common; why so many top lawyers are Jewish; why Asians are good at maths; and why it is correct to say that the mathematician who solved Fermat's Theorem is not a genius. Just as he did in Blink, Gladwell overturns many of our conventional notions and creates an entirely new model for seeing the world.

John Crace's Digested Read (The Guardian)

Reviews

The Times

AC Grayling

...The result is an absorbing, indeed a compelling, book, and a mind-changing one. I say this as one who is emphatically not a target reader for the kind of publication that claims to tell you how to succeed in business, be a great leader, crack the secret of entrepreneurship, take ten steps to happiness and slimness. The cover of this book might give the impression that it is one such, but not so: it is an instructive and thought-provoking challenge to our assumptions about why some people succeed and others do not, and whether or not you agree with Gladwell, you will never again think as you did before about what he has to say.

21/11/2008

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The Washington Post

Howard Gardner

Gladwell places the nature of talent inside a lock box, conceding its importance but making no effort to explain what it is or how it emerges. That is unfortunate because, in the end, practice does not suffice for the most remarkable achievements... Still, Gladwell reveals his special genius in the remarkable trilogy completed by Outlier. It is not in defining a problem: The phenomena he studies have long fascinated laypeople and scholars. Nor is it in providing a tight, scientific synthesis: That achievement belongs to the rare, focused scholar. Rather, it is in spotting remarkable jewels in the vast rock collection of social-science research and placing them expertly into an exquisite setting.

23/11/2008

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The Daily Mail

Harry Ritchie

The book felt as thought it should have been much longer. That’s partly because it’d be difficult to have enough of Gladwell’s extraordinary case-histories and amazing revelations - and partly because he does leave some questions begging. Is that 10,000-hour rule really hard and fast? If The Beatles had played a two-hour set in Hamburg, would they have been just a good pub band? If you are somehow motivated to put in the 10,000 hours even though you’re not wondrously gifted, would you still win a Nobel or fill the Albert Hall? Surely not . . . Those mere quibbles apart, this is a fizzingly entertaining and enlightening book, and one that also carries a serious social message - about how some children are given the opportunity to fulfil their potential and how others are fated to miss out. Sometimes because they are born in December. Usually because they are poor.

21/11/2008

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The Daily Telegraph

Robert Colvile

...the secret of Outliers [is that] it isn't about outliers at all. It's about everyone. Although it makes a neat hook for his publishers, Malcolm isn't really concerned with explaining how Bill Gates got where he is, although it's cool that he gets to interview him. We can't do much to position ourselves for the world-historical stuff that kind of achievement depends on... But what we can do, as Malcolm argues with passion and conviction, is to sort out the more everyday stuff... In other words, we can engineer a society that gives every kid the chance to be a Malcolm Gladwell – or, at the very least, to be someone with enough education and intellectual curiosity to buy his intriguing books.

11/12/2008

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The Daily Telegraph

Ed Smith

Gladwell's choice of subject matter... occasionally trips over into cheap thrills. It is one thing to use muscular and famous examples, like the Beatles, to buttress an argument - that is part of Gladwell's populist appeal. But the thrust of one chapter consists of transcriptions of not just one 'black box' from a fatal plane crash but transcriptions of several fatal plane crashes. A huge amount of heavy evidence sometimes hangs around quite a light argument... But Outliers is often provocative company. It will start many arguments and resolve some existing ones. It is also deeply humane. The logic of Gladwell's book is that successful people should be more gracious, especially towards the so-called 'failures' who never stood much of a chance in life's lottery.

15/04/2009

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Time Out

Izzy Grinspan (New York)

If this sounds a bit obvious, well, it is. But because Gladwell doesn’t have to work very hard to support his argument, he gets to spend each individual chapter exploring fascinating cases in which culture either helps or hinders talent... and if Gladwell never gets into the moral implications of his arguments—if one’s chances in life are rigged by culture, are we obligated to help liberate people from their unhelpful backgrounds?—he consistently entertains.

15/04/2009

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The New York Times

David Leonhardt

“Outliers” has much in common with Gladwell’s earlier work. It is a pleasure to read and leaves you mulling over its inventive theories for days afterward. It also, unfortunately, avoids grappling in a few instances with research that casts doubt on those theories. (Gladwell argues that relatively older children excel not only at hockey but also in the classroom. The research on this issue, however, is decidedly mixed.) This is a particular shame, because it would be a delight to watch someone of his intellect and clarity make sense of seemingly conflicting claims.

28/11/2008

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The Los Angeles Times

Susan Salter Reynolds

No surprise here. And no formula for success. Gladwell's point is that these accidents -- date of birth, culture and social class -- are the true determinants. "We want to believe that we are not prisoners of our ethnic histories," he allows, but that is precisely what we are. "[T]he simple truth is that . . . you have to go back into the past -- and not just one or two generations. . . . it's just the beginning, though, because upon closer examination, cultural legacies turn out to be even stronger and more powerful than that." Gladwell's conclusion is brilliantly simple. Success is a hand of cards played by someone willing to do the work, log the hours.

17/11/2008

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The Observer

Jason Cowley

The trouble with the book is that Gladwell is ultimately engaged in a long argument with nobody but himself. Throughout, he defines his position against a floating, ubiquitous, omnipotent 'we'; a Greek chorus of predictable opposition and received opinion. 'There is something profoundly wrong with the way we look at success,' he writes. 'We cling to the idea that success is a simple function of individual merit and that the world in which we grow up and the rules we choose to write as a society don't matter at all.' These assumptions can be irritating, since who is this naive, unquestioning, plural intelligence identified as 'we'?... However, it's still fun to follow Gladwell on his meandering intellectual journeys, even if the conclusions he arrives at here are so obviously self-evident as to be banal.

23/11/2008

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The Financial Times

John Willman

At its best Outliers challenges accepted wisdom, such as the belief that success stems mainly from struggle against the odds. Yet in the end, his conclusion boils down to three propositions: first, success is made possible by an accumulation of advantages; second, taking advantage of those circumstances requires hard work; and third, people from backgrounds that espouse hard work are more likely to work hard. While that brings insights into, for example, how schools could do better, it hardly overturns conventional thinking. It is also a rather deterministic version of history, in which the success of individuals is explained by a unique series of events that made overachieving possible.

16/11/2008

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The Guardian

Derek Draper

The problem with this book, though, is that the end point isn't particularly startling. Unless you are an avowedly right-wing individualist, you probably already buy this core message. As the book unfolds there is a hunger for something deeper and more profound that never turns up. Unlike Tipping Point and Blink, where Gladwell's weaving of facts and argument led to a seemingly new revelation, Outliers ends up being rather less than the sum of its parts.

06/12/2008

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The Independent

Boyd Tonkin

Trying to account for the excellence of "Asian" students in maths (he refers only to east Asians), Gladwell manages a reverse-Weber manoeuvre. He contrasts the habits of good work and initiative bred by high-skill rice-farming to the sullen torpor of European peasants who, it seems, all "worked as low-paid slaves of an aristocratic landlord". His only example relates to Russian serfdom. Such crude and silly generalisations pepper Outliers.

21/11/2008

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The New York Times

Michiko Kakutani

The book... is peppy, brightly written and provocative in a buzzy sort of way. It is also glib, poorly reasoned and thoroughly unconvincing... Mr. Gladwell’s emphasis on class and accidents of historical timing plays down the role of individual grit and talent to the point where he seems to be sketching a kind of theory of social predestination, determining who gets ahead and who does not — and all based not on persuasive, broadband research, but on a flimsy selection of colorful anecdotes and stories.

17/11/2008

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The Sunday Times

Kevin Jackson

Gladwell's book will probably be a bigger hit in the United States than in the United Kingdom. Here, the proposition that “what your parents do for a living, and the assumptions blah blah . . . matter” hardly calls out for the italics, or even for stating. In America, where the highly paid dimwits of network television tell you the contrary every evening, it can still count as a surprise. In brief, for British readers, the problem with Outliers is not that it is contentious but that it is largely platitudinous.

23/11/2008

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