January 21, 2010

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

9 of 10: Outliers was gripping, from first page to last. This is just the kind of non-fiction I can't read fast enough; it's as easy to read as a novel.

My parents gave us this book on CD for Christmas. I hadn't really planned on listening to it, at least not right away, but when I found myself with nothing else to listen to on my drive home from school, I popped it in and was instantly hooked.

This was a book I couldn't stop talking about, telling Bart every last detail about it, and sending my mom emails telling her about the cool things I'd learned from it. I even had an extremely vivid dream where I saw a friend from high school and spent twenty minutes going over the first chapter in great detail (accurately, I might add). So, yes, it would be safe to say I loved this book.

The basic premise of the book is that people who do remarkable things do so because of unusual circumstances and opportunities that are not available to everyone else. For instance, the first chapter is about how the majority of professional hockey players in Canada are born in the first three months of the year. The cutoff is January 1st, so you have boys eligible for the same teams that have an age span of twelve months. At the age of 9 or 10 (which is when boys are chosen for traveling teams), a difference of 12 months can be huge. You're most likely going to be bigger and more coordinated. Not because you are a hockey prodigy, but just because, if you were born in January, you have almost a full year on the kids born in November and December and they just aren't as physically mature as you are.

So you're picked to be on the traveling team. You play 70 games in a season instead of 20. Your coach is better, as are your teammates. You practice more hours in the day. Is it any surprise, then, that you end up a better hockey player than the kid who didn't get picked for that team?

The book is full of these kinds of things and I found them all fascinating.

On the other hand, Gladwell isn't discounting sheer intelligence and hard work, which I appreciated. When he talks about Bill Gates, who had opportunities virtually no other child had, he also is sure to discuss that those opportunities would have meant nothing if Gates hadn't been ready to work hard and take advantage of those opportunities.

Is the book perfect? Of course not. I thought the chapter about how a heritage of rice farming in China is the cause of Asians' success in the math/science field fell short of actually proving causation. And, of course, because it's his book, Gladwell can pick and choose what examples to use that prove his theory. But overall, it's a fascinating read, even if you have a few instances where you kind of want to say, "hmm, I'm not actually buying that."

Six or eight months ago, I wrote a post about a non-fiction book and someone asked if I'd been paid to review it (I assume because it was so different from the teen books I gravitate toward), but really informative non-fiction is definitely in my top three genres. I love books about education or nutrition or behind-the-scenes or explanations for unexplained trends or occurrences (like Freakonomics). So, of course, I'm an excellent audience for this book. But really, I think this book would appeal to most people.

I started reading The Tipping Point a few days ago and, while I'm enjoying it, so far I've found Outliers far more interesting. So, if you've read something else by Gladwell and come up a bit short, you may still enjoy this one.


  1. I will definitely check it out. I have Gladwell's "Blink" if you would like to borrow it also. Freakanomics was also great. If you have any other books along those lines to recommend me - please do!

  2. Rick and I have read Blink, Freakonomics and The Tipping Point and have enjoyed all three, can't wait to give this one a test drive.

  3. This has been on my to-do list for a long time. I love his articles in TNY, but haven't subscribed for a while so it is time to get all intellectual again.

  4. LOVE this book. I liked The Tipping Point and Blink, as well, but this was by far his best work.

  5. Have you ever read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver? Maybe I'll have to recommend it to you next month...

    PS - Loving your new blog adventure!

  6. The chapter on the Korean Pilots kind of got me. Too shy and intimidated to keep the pilot from crashing the plane? Amazing

  7. I just picked up Blink from the library. We are reading that one for book club, but I will add this to my list of must-reads as well!

  8. The thing about Outliers is he's not always square on his math. The book is enjoyable, but take it with a grain of salt.
    My husband has a professor who wrote one of the papers cited, and he's really upset about the airliners chapter.

    Just a thought.

    Emily Meyer Coyne

  9. Gladwell is an entertaining read, a great condiment, just not the main course.

    PS: Kelly Martin tipped me off to your blog (they're in my ward). I'm a Librarian (MLIS), too!!

  10. After reading Tipping Point, I don't care much for Gladwell. I felt like he was more interested in flash than in facts. But . . . this does sound compelling. I may have to read it now.

    Strongly recommend Thaler and Sunstein's Nudge. Discusses behavioral economics and how strongly circumstances influence actions.

  11. I really need to read this then because I loved The Tipping Point!

  12. How did I miss this review?! A book/author we both enjoy!! I have read all of Gladwell's books and love every last one of them. My favorite is his latest--What the Dog Saw--very fabulous stuff.

    At any rate, I'm glad we finally found an author in common. :o)



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