Monday, June 29, 2015

Outliers: The Story of Success

I vowed never to read another Malcolm Gladwell book.  Not because his books are not excellent on some level, but from some odd sense of things missing.  Maybe it has something to do with his flow of ideas and theorizing; in popularizing certain notions from sociology or psychology, he tends to leave out alternate views on the subject (and there are many) so he can create a seamless narrative which drives his point home.  He makes  social science a sleek racing yacht, when often it is a leaking dingy.

This is much the case with Outliers: The Story of Success.  Unless you think that success comes to those who are incredibly gifted and talented and do not have to work at all for their achievements, then Gladwell’s initial thesis is hardly shocking.  Most of us who even give it a moment's  reflection realize that hard work is the to key to even the possibility of success, especially among the incredibly talented. Young Bill Gates wrote code for hours on end to hone his skills; the Beatles played seven hour gigs in Hamburg for seven hours a week, for months on end.  Success and mastery of any task or job takes not only talent, but years of hard work.  This is no great insight.

The second part of the book is far more interesting.  Gladwell examines how success is predicated on where we come from, our family, their wealth, their education, their involvement in the life of their children, and the attitude inculcated by parents to successful children.  Here Gladwell topples some more well-entrenched notions of class and success, and the book here is more enlightening than in the first part.  He shows how among lower class students, school situations can be designed to successfully replace the lack advantages of upper class children and give lower class children a shot at success.

So, despite my vow to never read another Gladwell book, I will probably do so anyway.

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