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Typical Gladwell: no real substance

  • Jan 25, 2009
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I read Gladwell's "Blink" and was not impressed. Now I've read "Outliers" and I am still not impressed with Gladwell's books, though I have enjoyed his column on occasion.

Gladwell has created an apparently profitable niche for himself. In "Outliers", Gladwell says he wants to lead us to an understanding of success.

He fails.

We get a mish-mash of disparate facts and then conclusions drawn without any real support. Want to excel at something? Practice 10,000 or more hours. The Beatles played 10,000 hours before they acheived popular success. Mozart practiced 10,000 hours before composing his first major work. Bill Gates spent 10,000 hours writing programs. And so on.

Likewise, you must be born at the right time. Gladwell for example takes the example of young student hockey players chosen for championship teams. The teams are stuffed with kids born in the early part of the year. Gladwell correctly concludes this is because at young ages, six extra months of development makes a big difference, so a 9 year old isn't as well developed as a 9.5 year old. But this foolish anomaly in a hocky program is not strong enough to support Gladwell's theory that this kind of "luck" underlies all success.

Anyone familiar with the story of Bill Gates will recognize that Gates' thousand of hours of programming didn't have as much to do with his success as Gates' ability to comprehend the impact of the microprocessor, his unrelenting aggressivness, his family connections which Gladwell entirely ignores and the many other factors that make Gates who and what he is.

Gladwell would have you believe that it was Gates' early exposure to computing that was responsible for the man's success. But Gladwell doesn't tell us the outcomes for the other people at Gates' school where the mother's club bought a terminal for the kids. Are they all software billionaires too?

Gladwell, on the whole, is an entertainer. Kind like a Robert Ripley of many years ago and his "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" with factoids such as that an ant can lift many times its own bodyweight. Like the late Carl Sagan, Gladwell is also a masterful self-promoter.

But Gladwell is not a scientist and what he offers in "Outliers" may be mildly entertaining, but it is not science - and, for that matter, his conclusions are far from fact.

"Outliers" is good as a light afternoon read, but despite the rave reviews from the A-list party crowd Gladwell hangs out with, it is not a very persuasive work. Just some more junk science.

Jerry

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About the reviewer
Jerry Saperstein ()
Ranked #197
I am an e-discovery strategist, computer forensics specialist and testifying expert witness - and an avid reader.      Aside from technology books, I love thrillers, suspense, mystery, … more
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Amazon Best of the Month, November 2008: Now that he's gotten us talking about the viral life of ideas and the power of gut reactions, Malcolm Gladwell poses a more provocative question inOutliers: why do some people succeed, living remarkably productive and impactful lives, while so many more never reach their potential? Challenging our cherished belief of the "self-made man," he makes the democratic assertion that superstars don't arise out of nowhere, propelled by genius and talent: "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." Examining the lives of outliers from Mozart to Bill Gates, he builds a convincing case for how successful people rise on a tide of advantages, "some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky."

Outlierscan be enjoyed for its bits of trivia, like why most pro hockey players were born in January, how many hours of practice it takes to master a skill, why the descendents of Jewish immigrant garment workers became the most powerful lawyers in New York, how a pilots' culture impacts their crash record, how a centuries-old culture of rice farming helps Asian kids master math. But there's more to it than that. Throughout all of these examples--and in more that delve into the social benefits of lighter skin color, and the ...
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Details

ISBN-10: 0316017922
ISBN-13: 978-0316017923
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Genre: Business & Investing, Health, Mind & Body, Nonfiction
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
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