Sunday, February 1, 2009
Outliers by Macolm Gladwell
I just finished reading "Outliers: The Story of Success" by Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point and Blink, neither of which I have read). Mr. Gladwell argues that to understand the reason for why some people have incredible success we must look at a variety of factors such as culture, family background, birthplace and even birth date in addition to the personal qualities of the successful "outlier". Although some of these ideas may not be new, his hodgepodge of anecdotes contain the most fascinating tidbits of information. For example, out of the 75 richest people in history going back to the Byzantine empire, no fewer than 14 are Americans born in the 1830s (OK, three of these were born in the year 1840 if you want to be picky); the most successful hockey players are born in January, February and March (no, it has nothing to do with those being icy months); the most successful New York lawyers were Jews born in the 1830s to parents who worked in the garment industry; Colin Powell's family is from Jamaica; and traditional wet rice farmers in Asia fertilize their rice paddies with a combination of burned compost, river mud, hemp and human manure (this factoid is not especially relevant to his central argument, but I thought it interesting as well as gross). At any rate, I was, frankly, enthralled. I'm sure Gladwell will have his detractors - those who will argue that his ideas are recycled, that the rigor of his research is suspect, that he chooses his anecdotes selectively to support his arguments or that he does not give enough credit to the qualities of grit and perseverance over the element of social determination, but I thought the book was a fascinating and provocative read.