Friday, July 31, 2009

Outliers: Introduction

Malcolm Gladwell has done it again. He’s created another bestseller that gathers together facts and situations that often seem unrelated but with his vision on sociology and psychology create a fascinating new way to study subjects. In Outliers the subject is success. What does it take for one person or group to stand out from the rest of us? From Canadian hockey players to the Beatles his thesis is convincing.

When first read the term outliers seems a strange title because the word is not familiar to most people but instead of simply defining it he begins by relating the fascinating example of the small Pennsylvanian town that doesn’t fit any of the usual patterns of health because, as it turns out, of its totally unique culture of an intricate social life in which the intimate relationships among the citizens results in long and happy lives. They are the first example of outliers.

As with his previous successful bestselling books The Tipping Point and Blink, which remain very popular at bookstores and especially at our library years after being initially published, his unique viewpoints on society and his writing style make Outliers a fascinating view of society. Readers can’t wait to see what topic he will next tackle.

As an aside, our statistics for how many bloggers are reading our site are huge compared to the number of people who actually participate in the discussions. Please join in with your opinions and observations. Any thoughts and opinions are welcome and create conversation on the blog. Please participate and help create a lively discussion with a variety of viewpoints. Thanks


Anonymous said...

I loved the previous discussion on Narcissism and will read Outliers to participate in this one. All of the copies of Outliers at Brooklyn Public Library are checked out so I plan to buy a copy of my own. Who wouldn't want to know how to succeed. Good choice Brooklyn Book Talk.

While browsing I found an interesting quote from an Outlier website which made me kind of wonder...

"It is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success. It’s the rich who get the biggest tax breaks. It’s the best students who get the best teaching and most attention. And it’s the biggest nine- and ten-year-olds who get the most coaching and practice. Success is the result of what sociologists like to call “accumulative advantage.”

There is certainly some truth is Gladwell's claim but let us not be blind to statistics. Does he offer any numbers to support his conclusions? How does he explain the kind of success stories of immigrants within one generation, that one witnesses in the United States of America. Yes, the world is still not "color blind" but when individual passion, intention and intelligence allign, only sky is the limit, especially in USA.

Anonymous said...

Very often, though, the immigrants who succeed are the ones who are chosen to succeed. My father was the son of two Italian immigrants one an illegal alien) who had no formal schooling past the age of 12 and who never really learned English. He always told the story of how his high school guidance counselor, despite his excellent grades, tried to place him in a vocational education track because of his ethnic backround. My father appealed to his athletic teacher, who was impressed enough by my father's athletic skills to insist that my father get placed into college-prep classes.My father subsequently went on to college, the first in his family, on sports scholarships and the GI bill. Has he not been so athletically talented, he would not have been able to enlist a teacher to support him in his quest to go to college since his parents did not know enough English to help him navigate the NYC educational maze. This was back in the 1940's - it would be even more complicated today.

Anonymous said...

Malcolm Gladwell's definition of success is, unfortunately, so postmodern. The Wall Street executives who get million-dollar bonuses would be a success according to Mr. Galdwell. O well...To be unmindful of the consequences of one's worldly success to society/world at large, is according to my definiton, quite an unsuccessful and I dare say, a worthless life. As long as there is, on this planet, poverty, disease, discrimination, injustice, illiteracy, crime, unemployment, censorship, racism, sexism, pollution, guns and war, no human being should consider himself or herself a success Mr. Gladwell.

Anonymous said...

Gladwell is certainly not blind to statistics Anon 1:26, since he was inspired to write the book by observing the similarity of New York City lawyers (I guess the divorce lawyers mostly).

The book is about successful people--who operate at the extreme outer edge of what is statistically possible. Bill Gates, The Beatles, not the Kobe Bean Bryants. And yes, of course the fancy Fraudian Machiavellian divorce lawyers.

Gladwell's goal is to focus on the context of success in America. Instead of success stories of a gifted child who largely through neurosis and natural intelligence, becomes a successful adult —Outliers talks about the background such as family, culture, friendship, childhood, accidents of birth and history and geography.

In the complex non-linear, chaotic, unbalanced equation of success, Gladwell's analysis only captures one variable among many unknowns.

Outliers is also a censure of the fallacious American myth of the self-made man. (And aren't they mostly are men?). There aren't a lot of women outliers in Outliers. I wonder about the why and the wherefore of patriarchal free democratic societies. Sometimes, there is nothing more Ironic than a success story.

Anonymous said...

Another question is what defines a success story? Are these people happy? Are they really making an important contribution to society?

Anonymous said...

I loved the whole story of the Beatles. Acquiring 10,000 hours of expertise through performing for eight hour stretches at the Hamburg venue.