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Outliers: The Story of Success (Hardcover) Review
Amazon Best of the Month, November 2008: Now that he's gotten us talking about the viral life of ideas and the power of gut reactions, Malcolm Gladwell poses a more provocative question in Outliers: why do some people succeed, living remarkably productive and impactful lives, while so many more never reach their potential? Challenging our cherished belief of the "self-made man," he makes the democratic assertion that superstars don't arise out of nowhere, propelled by genius and talent: "they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot." Examining the lives of outliers from Mozart to Bill Gates, he builds a convincing case for how successful people rise on a tide of advantages, "some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky."

Outliers can be enjoyed for its bits of trivia, like why most pro hockey players were born in January, how many hours of practice it takes to master a skill, why the descendents of Jewish immigrant garment workers became the most powerful lawyers in New York, how a pilots' culture impacts their crash record, how a centuries-old culture of rice farming helps Asian kids master math. But there's more to it than that. Throughout all of these examples--and in more that delve into the social benefits of lighter skin color, and the reasons for school achievement gaps--Gladwell invites conversations about the complex ways privilege manifests in our culture. He leaves us pondering the gifts of our own history, and how the world could benefit if more of our kids were granted the opportunities to fulfill their remarkable potential. --Mari Malcolm

By Nick Tasler (Minneapolis, MN)
4 stars for fun, but 2 stars for originality, November 21, 2008

Gladwell has done it again...sort of. I would have categorized this book as a 4 or 5 star read like his previous two installments--Blink and The Tipping Point, except he lost a few originality points this time around.

Gladwell's knack for making a reader say "huh, interesting..." is something for other writers to marvel at. I'm convinced that he could pen a book called "Green: It's the color of grass," and he would write it in such a way that would inspire most of us to say "huh...who knew?!?"

But in the case of Outliers the "huh..." factor has little to do with the ideas found in the book, and are almost exclusively the result of Gladwell's keen sense of how to make the ordinary and mundane sound exciting and new. This is especially true in the two chapters devoted to debunking the myth that intelligence is the key to success. Unfortunately, Dan Goleman beat him to the punch way back in 1995 with his book "Emotional Intelligence: Why it matters more than IQ." With a quick sleight of hand, Gladwell cites Robert Sternberg's label of "practical intelligence," instead of calling it emotional intelligence. But let's be honest, here, the only difference is Goleman says "tem-ay-toe," and Gladwell says "tem-ah-toe."

The other flaw is that nothing in it is terribly useful for practical application. It's no secret to anyone in the business of hiring that most selection techniques are abysmal predictors of on-the-job success. What we are left with as a takeaway from Outliers is that factors of chance like the ability to practice a skill for 10,000 hours--mostly during childhood--is the key to predicting future success. Get your kids started long as you know when the next Industrial Revolution or Internet Age is going to occur. Aside from emotional intelligence (aka "practical intelligence") most of these are factors that we just can't do much about. Unfortunately, we already knew that.

Alas, however, Malcolm Gladwell is a professional writer, and not a professional researcher. If readers keep that in mind, they won't be too disappointed by the methods or originality of the research. His job is to weave together an interesting story, which is something Gladwell does exceedingly well. If all you want is some good entertainment and fodder for cocktail party discussions, Outliers might make a nice addition to your bookshelves.

By Preston Barrett
An interesting look at what gets success, November 18, 2008

In this wide-ranging third installment of Malcolm Gladwell's exploration of how people and social phenomena work, the New Yorker journalist takes a close look at what constitutes high levels of success. That is, what makes people at the top of their respective fields get there? As we've come to expect from Gladwell's previous books, the answer to the question is a bit complicated.

He says that upbringing, culture and even random luck have something to with success, but there is another important quality that anyone can control. Two chapters are dedicated to the "revelation" that IQ is only a baseline quality and success has little to nothing to do with having a high IQ or a low IQ. Rather, success is substantially a product of cultivating a high degree of what Robert Sternberg calls "practical intelligence" or what most refer to as "emotional intelligence."

Gladwell uses the example of Nobel laureates coming from unknown schools as often as ivy league schools. At this level of mastery IQ is no longer a factor. Success has little to do with where you were educated and everything to do with your level of practical/emotional intelligence and willingness to put in the 10,000 hours of practice required to reach mastery of your field.

All in all, it's an interesting read that isn't too heady and goes by pretty quickly, as the interesting anecdotes are what you would expect from Gladwell.

Another book on the topic that I strongly recommend because it has been really helpful to me in actually applying what Gladwell teaches in my own life (for my own success!) is The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book.