"Outliers: The Story of Success"
Reading history and reviews
Finished on 8th August 2009My friend Steve recommended this to me in May (at the time he'd only read the first few chapters). Based on his enthusiasm I bought it half price at Borders and read it in one sitting on a transatlantic flight to New Jersey.
It's certainly thought-provoking, and Gladwell has an engaging style that is very readable. Here his central idea is that there is more to the stories of successful people (the "outliers" of the title) than we've come to believe. The typical narratives for people like Bill Gates or the Beatles focus on their talents and suggest that it was almost inevitable that - perhaps with the odd lucky break - they would ultimately rise to the top of their field. But Gladwell questions the straightforward nature of these stories - if you dig a little then you find that in successful people, talent is supplemented by hours and hours of hard work: gifted musicians and gifted programmers alike need to spend a lot of time practising (Gladwell estimates it at 10,000 hours) to realise their gifts - and this requires both opportunity and dedication. Without either of these things, Gladwell argues that innate talent is simply not sufficient - in fact, it may almost be irrelevant. He goes on to examine how our cultural backgrounds also plays an often hidden role - for better or worse - in shaping how we behave in different situations.
What Gladwell excels at is assembling interesting stories to illustrate his point, and he is very good at telling them. If I have a complaint then it's that so much of the evidence that he presents feels rather anecdotal. Even so he presents his ideas in a compelling way, and ends with an exciting idea: if opportunity is more important than talent, then shouldn't we as societies really be trying to provide opportunities for everyone equally? It's something that stayed with me long after I'd finished reading the book. Highly recommended.