Book Review: Outliers


So thanks to GrandCentralPub on Twitter, I got an early review copy of Malcolm Gladwell's newest book, Outliers. I am a huge Gladwell fan. His previous book, Blink, was a truly eye opening read, chock a block full of startling discoveries.

Here's the library summary for Outliers:

In this stunning new book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of "outliers"--the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high achievers different? His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Along the way he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band. Brilliant and entertaining, OUTLIERS is a landmark work that will simultaneously delight and illuminate.

A pretty interesting book, albeit with not quite as many "knock me over with a feather" moments as Blink. It starts off with a bang, as he discusses amateur hockey teams and how it was noticed that virtually all the players on an Under-18 hockey team came from the first three months of the year. Turns out the age cutoff is January 1 in Canada, so the older players (those born early in the year) advanced further due to their slight maturity advantage the continued to multiply, as they got better training, put on better teams etc.

This subject hit close to home, as I am a soccer coach and heavily involved in my daughters soccer league. My oldest has a birthday at the worst possible time, just a few weeks before the cutoff date, while the younger one has a birthday the month after the cutoff date. So far, it hasn't seemed to slow the older one's progress, but it is something I will certainly keep an eye on. Gladwell's suggestion is to have multiple cutoff dates, so other ages can play against others of the same age. Doesn't seem likely though.

He also explores how the timing of your interests can really change things. Something as simple as how available computer time was to early pioneers like Bill Gates and Bill Joy. Certainly, in the late 60s and early 70s, the amount of keyboard time these guys had pales in comparison to what would be available just a few years before that. He also talks about a major law firm in New York that benefited from getting the kinds of financial cases the other law firms wouldn't deal with, only to explode in popularity as the money days of the 80s and 90s struck.

I thought the book sometimes felt like it suffered from data mining, in that there didn't seem to be enough exploration of other equally successful groups that may not have had the same advantages. But still a fascinating look at what kinds of things influence success, whether we think about them or not.


I certainly enjoyed reading Tipping Point and Blink and I'm going to get myself a copy the of this new book. I'll be interested to see how much luck plays a part, a supportive family and opportunity's early in life. Thank you for your comments.


virtually all the players on an Under-18 hockey team came from the first three months of the yearSo The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh is plausible!  I knew it!

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on November 16, 2008 11:37 AM.

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