Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Outliers



I just finished reading the book Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell.  I actually got more than halfway through a 928-page book called 1Q84 before I had to put it down.  The plot and descriptions got a little too scandalous in 1Q84, but it really sucked to read so much and then not even finish the book.

Anyway, back to Outliers.  Outliers is non-fiction, which I usually don't read, but it's fluffy non-fiction, sort of like of Freakanomics.  Gladwell's theme is that success is not just the product of hard work and a can-do attitude -- that the people we think of as "self made" became successful because of their background, culture, and even birth month or year.  He has incredible statistics and studies to back up his position, and he leads the reader through case study after case study of extremely successful people, and shows the less-obvious (if non-obvious was a word I'd use that) reasons why they were able to acheive success.

That theme started out really interesting, but quickly became depressing.  For every story of how a mega-successful person like Bill Gates was the beneficiary of incredible luck, you can't help but think of how many people worked just as hard as he did without success.  And he even highlights the story of a man with an IQ much higher than even Einstein's who couldn't even get through a year of college because of the hand he'd been dealt by life.

The studies and statistics that Gladwell uses to prove his point are awesome.  The whole time I was reading the book I was elbowing my husband every five minutes to say, "Listen to this!" and "Can you believe this?"  That was the best part of the book.  I also loved the chapter on commercial plane crashes.

Some of the conclusions Gladwell comes to are odd, and I wasn't on board with every one of them (working on rice paddies makes someone better at math than working in a potato field?).  But the book assuredley made me look at the world differently.  And with a new son, it really made me think about what I could do to give my son the most advantages out of life that I can.  Read it in conjunction with Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and you'll be crazy-mom in no time.

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