Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

This title was recommended to me by both a student and a colleague, so I couldn’t resist reading it, even though it isn’t my usual type of book.  In it, Gladwell tries to answer the question: Why do some people succeed far more than others?  Common knowledge states that these great successes are smarter and work harder.  This is wrong, according to Gladwell, who says “they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.” He proposes a theory that a number of other factors are involved, including birth date, year of birth, cultural legacies and family background.

He looks at people as diverse as Bill Gates, Mozart and J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project which created the first atomic bomb. Gladwell asks questions like:

Why are Asians so good at math?

Why are the best ice hockey players born in January, February and March?

How is the education system in the United States unfair to lower income students?

While I don’t agree with all his conclusions, I have to admit that this book certainly made me think about some of the assumptions we make about success, hard work and cultural stereotypes.  I would recommend this book to students who like to think about what makes people successful and what roles stereotypes play in our lives.


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