Peter Heinrich's Reviews > Outliers: The Story of Success

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
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's review
Jan 04, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: biography, history, nonfiction, science, business
Read from December 28, 2011 to January 04, 2012 — I own a copy

Can't say I loved this book, but I found it interesting—and depressing (I kid, I kid!). Gladwell's premise is essentially, "If you're reasonably smart or talented, have a good work ethic (possibly inspired by your forebears or culture), and get the opportunity to work really hard, you're on the road to success, baby!"

These aren't exactly world-shaking ideas, although Gladwell (a Canadian) admits that they may generate controversy across the border in the land of rugged individualism. I'm sure he's right, since many Americans may see Outliers as an attack on the idea of the "self-made man," pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, etc. Gladwell talks a lot about chance, which sounds a lot like "luck."

He's not claiming, though, that success is all luck and no hard work. He's saying it's all hard work, but sometimes a chance opportunity is what enables a successful person to work hard. These "opportunities" take many forms, such as parents making sacrifices to secure a good education for their children; a culture that highly values a strong work ethic; a native tongue that expresses some mathematical concept in a particularly clear or succinct way; or simply being born at the right time.

Gladwell argues articulately that if we accept the opportunity to work hard is a key to success (instead of some 1-in-a-million genius or talent), personal success starts to look like something we can foster. He provides lots of entertaining examples and case studies, which he analyses from this point of view.

Ability + hard work + land of opportunity = success. What could be more apple pie?

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