Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

I heard about this book on one of my local sports radio programs and respected the speaker enough to pick it up.

I'm glad I did as while there is nothing earth shattering here, the book certainly slams home certain realities about how people become successful.

The most interesting portions of the book to me surrounded the reasons behind the overwhelming number of professional hockey players who are born in the first quarter of their given birth year and the factors behind why South Korean airlines had one of the worst records of catastrophic accidents in the world despite world class training and equipment.

Gladwell succeeds in pointing out that behind every story of triumph (and failure) are may more factors that are generally credited.  In fact, most stories of success are overtly simplistic to the point of inaccuracy.

Critiques of the book focus on Gladwell acting as a Psych/Soc 101 student using amateur levels of analysis to describe exceedingly complex issues.  Meant for the masses, this is Gladwell's strength in my opinion.  He makes it easy to understand that the way people and issues are often portrayed in the media or even academia are greatly flawed.  Bill Gates was not ONLY a brilliant software developer and canny businessman but also lucky to have access to certain resources and education that other, likely equally smart individuals, didn't.  Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Morgan, etc. were not only great entrepreneurs and hard nosed negotiators but were born at the right time in American history to take advantage of their surroundings.

Another critique of the book is that it focuses too much on Americans.  This critique misses a major point of the book.  In fact I'd question whether anyone making such a critique has even read the book.  Outliers presents the fact that any list of the wealthiest individuals in history will be dominated by Americans.  This is as it should be as the U.S. is by far and away the most wealthy nation in the history of the world.  Now you can call it luck to be born American and especially to be born an American in the early to mid 1800s.  But any book focusing on exceptionally successful businessmen or exceptionally rich individuals in general that did NOT focus primarily upon individuals from the US would be deficient by omission.

A quick read and most importantly a mind opening one, Outliers is a valuable lesson to all readers.

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