Review: “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. Little, Brown. 310 pages.

This is not just a good book. This is an important book. One of the first things I realized in reading this book by Malcolm Gladwell is that his position is diametrically opposite from that of Dr. Ben Carson, who through his campaign for the presidency stated that “poverty is a state of mind.” Carson emphasized that despite all odds he was able to pull himself out of poverty and become a neurosurgeon and accomplish the things he did.

Gladwell’s book states early that success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It isn’t based on intelligence, but on a variety of factors, and he uses multiple examples to demonstrate that we as a nation could have many more successful people in our country if we were to accept that it takes a village to make successes out of our children. In fact, he shows that hard work and opportunity in almost all cases are more important than intelligence.

One story tells of the Canadian hockey league and the fascinating statistic that the vast majority of all successful hockey players are born in January, February or March. Why? Because the cutoff date for signing children is January 1, and those born in the first three months have a distinct advantage in age, experience and size in relation to those they play against. That same cutoff date is used by other countries, such as the Czech Republic, for not only hockey but soccer as well, which means that children born in the later part of the year consistently are overlooked when it comes to team sports. It’s a built-in bias.

These biases are all around us, and determine who succeeds or fails, constantly. In addition, the bias of a culture has a significant effect on how well a student does. Gladwell talks about the belief that Asians are better at math, which he shows is because their languages are more number-friendly, leading children to count earlier, and which make math simpler. In addition, he shows the inherent tradition of hard work of southern China had resulted in a work ethic for their descendants that continues today.

Many of the stories are supported with statistics. One of the most eye-opening to me was his observation of the impact on summer vacation. Statistics show that the amount that lower-, middle-, and upper-class students learn in elementary school each year isn’t that significantly different. But when you compare what they learn or forget over summer vacation, there is a significant discrepancy. Upper-class parents keep their children busy with lessons and classes all summer, while in most situations lower and even middle-class students don’t do much during the summer and often forget much of what they have learned the previous year. As the summers add up, the problem compounds. And so the difference between upper, middle and lower class widens.

The book is significant, easy to read, and extremely thought provoking. I highly recommend it.

I give it five out of five stars.

One thought on “Review: “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell

  1. This sounds so interesting! I’ve definitely observed some of those trends in real life. I didn’t grow up wealthy, but I had a part time job tutoring wealthy family’s children (like 6-year-old kids!!) while I was in high school. Those parents worked their kids a whole lot harder than the lower middle-class kids I hung out with when I was 6. Of course, my parents were both teachers, so I got extracurricular learning grilled into me regardless… Anyway, it’s not only easier for these kids to succeed in getting internships/jobs because of their parents’ connections – they also definitely have an educational leg up. I’m so curious to hear about the other case studies in the book! Adding it to my TBR 🙂

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