Book Review: 'Outliers: The Story of Success' by Malcolm Gladwell
Outliers: The Story of Success Malcolm Gladwell Little, Brown & Company (2008)
In my opinion, this is Gladwell’s most significant and most valuable book thus far. In it, he demonstrates superior storyteller skills as he discusses several quite different situations that demonstrate that “the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are…[Those who succeed] owe something to parentage and patronage. [They] may look like they did all by themselves. But in fact 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…It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.” Gladwell provides many different versions of “the story of success” involving those who demonstrate what sociologists call “accumulative advantage…Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
Clearly, Gladwell agrees with Geoff Colvin that “talent is overrated.” As does Colvin, he cites the 10,000-Hour Rule (i.e. it takes approximately 10,000 hours of “deliberate,” “deep” practice under strict supervision by an expert to master almost any skill) and suggests that “once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.” The success of the various outliers whom Gladwell discusses is not exceptional or mysterious. “It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky – but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.”
Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission.Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.