Outliers | Malcom Gladwell


Being the Librarian Who Reads Everything consists of two distinctive and equally important tasks: reading everything (of course) and reviewing everything. After completing over 10,000 hours of reading (important according to Gladwell), the reading portion is usually the easier task, even for the most difficult parts. Crafting the reviews, while less time-consuming than reading a 700-page book, are often much more difficult. Reviews need to go beyond a simple summary of the book but need to identify comparative themes, draw out messages, and find ways to tie to either my own experience or try and create connections with those of the review reader. All in all, a trying task and one at which I need to practice.

I mention all this because I’ve been struggling with exactly how to review Outliers. It was a straightforward, non-fiction work, utilizing a mixed field of mathematics, science, and sociology to understand how some people find success. When Gladwell moved beyond IQ, I think he really grasped the most important idea. Practice is one of the most important causes of success. That’s not the most important idea, that’s just the setup. In America – the Land of Individualism – we are frequently told that success is within reach of all of us, if we only work (or practice) hard enough. But Gladwell’s revelation is that practice requires opportunity. Whether it’s Bill Gates having the opportunity to utilize valuable computer time when he was beginning programming, or Canadian hockey players gaining extra ice time when they are young, the opportunity to practice your craft goes beyond our own sphere of influence. Nobody lifts themselves by their own bootstraps, but instead seize opportunities. These opportunities may be afforded to them by luck or by parentage. Irregardless, without them these outliers would likely not have achieved what they did. 

And so it once again moves us further from the idea that we are the creators of our own successes, but instead are the culmination of a multitude of factors. Pairing this book with Incognito: The Secret Lives of Brains by David Eagleman, who argued that much of our brain lives below our consciousness, and we start to touch on one of life’s greatest questions: do we have free will? If we are only aware of a tiny fraction of our actions (internal) and many of the pathways to success are controlled by external factors, how much of our life is pre-determined? This question’s definitely outside the scope of Outliers, but one of the great parts of this book is all the questions it leaves us with afterwards.

Definitely recommended reading.

Book 62 of 189


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