More on Outliers

Steve and the kids are downstairs horsing around with the wii. (I would like to create an avatar that grades papers for me.) I'm up in the office slugging away at a paper and sniffling. I made it through holidays, an in-law visit, and paper grading, then my immune system promptly collapsed. Just thought I would take a break to give my two cents on Outliers.

Outliers is really two books. The first book looks at why exceptional people are exceptional. It focuses in on a big shot lawyer, Bill Gates, pro hockey players and some other guys. He determines that what makes exceptional people exceptional is a mixture of just enough brains, hard work, culture and dumb luck. Which really narrows things down.

One component of dumb luck must be being a man, since the only exceptional people in this book are men until a quick throwaway section at the end on his mother.

By the end of the book, the outliers are less extraordinary than the outliers in the beginning of the book. Both of my parents would fall into his later definition of outliers. Both overcame rough family situations to be the first in their family to get college degrees. As fantastic as my parents are, I doubt that anyone outside of my family would put them in the same category as Bill Gates. So, I left the book not quite knowing what an outlier was.

The second half of the book is about the impact that culture has on driving planes, taking math tests, remaining healthy, and making garments. Culture may have an impact on creating exceptional people, but Gladwell casts a wide net and makes culture the independent variable for a whole lot of random things.

But all is not lost. Gladwell strings together good stories and fun studies. Each story is excellent fodder for cocktail conversation. Indeed, I used his story about the town of Italians in PA several time over the holiday break and will probably turn it into a blog post at some time. This is a very entertaining read.

Does the book hold together? No. Does it present any ground-breaking original ideas? Absolutely not. Is it fun? Yes.

One thought on “More on Outliers

  1. I just read Outliers and was underwhelmed. As an argument, it’s pretty lousy. It’s like he’s trying to prove a negative: innate genius doesn’t matter. So his book is all over the place.
    The only time he really deals with a woman “outlier,” the issue of gender is overshadowed by race/skin color.
    The book has made me think about parenting quite a bit, however.

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