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Book Review: Outliers

I mentioned a while back that I was listening to the audiobook for Malcolm Gladwell’s latest, Outliers. Readers of this blog know I’ve been following Gladwell since before The Tipping Point, and I’ve always been quite critical. I’ve written about how TTP didn’t tie together, Blink had no legitimate argument, and his misunderstanding of the role of paper in the modern office.

Outliers is much the same as his prior two books — a set of distinct, well-researched and engagingly told stories tied together by the barest wisp of connective tissue. The theme of his book seems to be: People become successful because a) they’re given remarkable opportunities others are not and b) they work really really hard. Actually, the theme of his book is “stop thinking that brilliance is inborn; all successful people worked hard at it.” Somehow, this is meant to tie together hockey players, Bill Gates, inner-city students, and airlines pilots who don’t crash planes when faced with trouble.

Let me correct myself. Gladwell’s point is to insist on equality of opportunity, and for us to understand the systems and forces at play that lead to inequality. It might be Gladwell’s first book with an explicit social message, and, frankly, it’s one that I agree with. It’s also a realization that any systems-oriented thinker had some time by college if not sooner. You cannot, say, understand Darwinian evolution without realizing the role that opportunity plays in enabling success.

Still, some good stories. Definitely worth checking out from the library.

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