Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Outliers by Malcom Gladwell

Some books are great fun to read, but they don't promote much deep thinking. On more than one occasion, I've picked up a promising-looking book only to discover a vague memory of having read it before. For whatever reason, the story just doesn't stick. This is never the case with books by Malcom Gladwell. His topics always leave me pondering the ideas for months or even years afterwards. His newest book, Outliers, is no exception.

The main theme of this book is success, and it attempts to debunk the myth that some people are successful simply because they are talented. Success, Gladwell claims, is the result of a complex interplay of many factors including natural talent, extensive practice, thorough education, bountiful opportunities, and a healthy dose of luck. Quite the counterpoint to that old story about a person who pulls themselves up by their bootstraps through sheer pluck alone.

One part of the book I found particularly interesting was when he looked at the role of education in success. I won't repeat it all here (you can and should just read the book), but it was so good to hear his opinion that American schools are not, one the whole, total failures. He argues that our education system does, in fact, educate nearly all students (he has the test results to prove it). However, it seems that this learning is often disrupted, disjointed, and ultimately stratified by issues of class, parental style, and social expectations. I could go on and on, but it turns out that Gladwell is a much better writer than I am.

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