I think I felt a little betrayed as I was reading the book, as a large portion of Gladwell’s premise in Outliers is situated on the fact that people who are seen as “outliers”—or extremely successful people—have risen to the position where they’re in due to a combination of various lucky factors. He mentions how people born at the right time in history at the right place often develop a deep interest in a particular topic that comes to fruition much later. For instance, Bill Gates’ childhood was spent in a private school with a computer, something extremely unlucky at the time. Joe Flom spent years practicing litigation law even though no company wanted to at the time; decades later, that field of law skyrocketed and turned Flom’s corporation into one of the biggest in the world.

Another factor that Gladwell mentions a lot is that of cultural heritage. He mentions how the cultural heritage is strongly influenced by the type of lives that their ancestors held; those growing crops in America are well aware of not overworking the ground [or themselves], while Asians working in rice paddies work extremely hard almost every day of the year. Consequently, these factors influence people in those cultures today. American schools insist on having an extremely long summer vacation to avoid overworking kids, while Asian schools don’t have that. I think this is a great point that Gladwell makes, though I’m currently unsure of much of a role ancestral behavior plays into this. He never quite makes the connection either, beyond saying things like the sayings of a culture [somehow] influence everyone who’s part of it. I don’t know; it’s weird.

Gladwell shines at giving extremely interesting examples, such as those of hockey players, towns with no heart disease, and showing how traditional indicators of intelligence, like IQ, aren’t necessary the best. I love his descriptions of KIPP schools and how pushing students to work hard often leads to great results, even in impoverished communities.

I feel like Gladwell tries to make the point that successful people are just normal people in unique circumstances, but he definitely downplays the element of hard work that’s necessary. Grinding, pursuing interests in a society where they’re not interesting, and simply being an outstanding person are all elements that he doesn’t cover. In the end, his book is really about the difference between great people and legendary people, but it tries to plays itself off as a book showing the difference between ordinary and legendary people. It takes a lot of hard work to be great—but being legendary is just luck. I didn’t like the book’s message.


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