Review: Outliers: The Story of Success
Thoroughly enjoyed this easy read. Gladwell does have quite the knack for finding interesting stories and weaving them into a narrative supporting his thesis. I particularly enjoyed the illustration from Gladwell’s parents’ life. The excerpt from his mother’s book about being forced to confront her own racism and forgive someone else’s—that was very powerful.
If Gladwell is right that cultural legacies shape us—for good and ill—more than our individualistic Western mindsets have heretofore allowed, then it can only be fruitful to ask myself questions like these: How has my cultural legacy shaped me? In what ways might my success (as God defines it!) be hindered by my inherited assumptions? It’s very hard to answer these questions, very hard to look at the air you breathe.
I did find myself a little skeptical about the tidiness of the argument, though certainly not wise or knowledgeable enough to offer counterarguments or even to quite know where I should do so. That would require some serious cross-disciplinary expertise, a testimony to Gladwell’s own work ethic. A quick check of the Wikipedia article on Outliers, however, revealed some caveats about the book given by people more familiar with the fields Gladwell covered.
I thought of just one counterargument… So (many) Asians come from rice-growing cultures in which work is very hard, very complex, and yet very rewarding—and that (along with the Chinese way of naming numbers) makes them more adept at math. But is this true of students at higher levels than secondary education? Do Chinese Math PhDs outstrip American ones either in quantity (per capita) or quality? An honest question.
Everyone seems to acknowledge, caveats aside, that Gladwell is a fantastically engaging writer who offers a slightly different take on the world than we’re all used to. That’s valuable, even if his conclusions are someday superseded by the next wave of best-selling journalistic insights.