Review of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers by Malcolm GladwellThe basic premise of this book my Malcolm Gladwell is that people, or Outliers, are successful for a number of different reasons, on top of the fact that they’re skilled at what they do.

Some of the examples he looks into say:

  • Success can be determined based on when you were born
  • Put in the work (10,000+ hours) and you’ll be a master at your craft
  • Just because you’re smart, doesn’t mean you’ll succeed
  • Timing is everything
  • The behavior of generations past keep us in its grasp

Obviously Gladwell looks at data that helps him prove his points. The case studies he examines are interesting, well told stories, and in all of them I found he made arguments, backed by expert research, that made sense.

If not necessarily true for all cases, it’s a good eye opener that shows those who are successful aren’t just so because of some talent they were born with, but that skill was gained through a lot of hard work or an opportune upbringing/family history. There are of course exceptions to the rule, and Gladwell seems to say successful people are who they are because of these reasons, but doesn’t look at the examples that prove his point wrong.

Nowhere in the book, outside of the small samples he looks at, does it show overall rates of for example, hockey players who were born outside of the first quarter of the year. The theory he looks at is that the earlier in the year you’re born (Jan/Feb/Mar), the more successful you’ll be because you’re months ahead of players born in the later part of the year, development-wise. Curious, I took a look at the roster of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. While some players have moved, it’s still noteworthy to see that of the 24 players on the roster, only 5 were born from January to March. (Others: Detroit = 13; Toronto = 7; Vancouver = 5).

While the hockey analysis may not hold up, I learned some eye-opening information. One was the reason why students have summer vacations is due to research from the 1800s saying that over-study leads to mental illness; it’s based on this that people aren’t willing to put kids through school in the summer. Another interesting tidbit was that the way Asian numbers are formed makes it easier for them to memorize and therefore learn math quicker than western kids. They were some small but interesting tidbits in the stories, but they stuck with me.

As with most of Gladwell’s work, Outliers is easy to read and presents an idea or belief that you may think is simple, and opens it up to examine the psychological or sociological reasoning behind it. There’s something about books that deal with the how we think or act that get to me. Though close, this one isn’t quite on the level of The Tipping Point or Blink but I really enjoyed the book and I can’t wait for his next one – whatever the random topic may be. I give Outliers a 4/5.

The Glass Castle: a memoir you will not want to put down

The Glass CastleIf you ever think you have issues with your own family, or you need inspiration to get out of a bad rut in your life, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is the perfect read.

Even though memoirs are subjective and perhaps embellished to make for better story telling, you still have those incredible experiences at the heart. If you forgive any of those embellishments, Walls and her family certainly went through many incredible experiences, to say the least. As I progressed through the book I found myself reading with my mouth hanging open in shock, or yelling at her parents for their countless screw ups. Though at the same time I always felt each incident made the kids stronger and more resilient.

I feel Walls wrote the book without the emotional connection and felt it was important let the reader decide for themselves how to feel based on her actions as a child. Her parents offered up many opportunities for her to lash out, but she often balanced her father’s drunkenness and mother’s scatterbrained behaviour with tidbits of how well-read or educated they both were. It was extremely well pieced so that while you feel anger at their actions, you don’t necessarily feel sorry for them, especially after moving to New York in their later years.

This was a novel I didn’t expect anything from, and after a slow start it eventually picked up and I couldn’t put it down. Walls’ story kept getting more interesting with each page turned. It was an inspiring read that reminds the reader that you don’t get to pick your family, but even through adversity it’s always important to stick with them, and be proud of where you come from because it made you who you are. I give The Glass Castle a 5/5.

My top 5 books of 2011

Last year I attempted to to read 26 books in 52 weeks, but unfortunately life got in the way and could only manage to get through 16. This year I contemplated doing the same challenge, but figured I’d just read as much as I could and not look for a goal, but I managed to read 16 again this year anyway. Oh, these are my favourite books that I’ve read this year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were published this year:

5. Between the Assassinations

Between the AssassinationsAravind Adiga’s Between the Assassinations was the second book I reviewed this year and I was really pleased with his second output.

The book features a series of ‘day in the life’ stories from people of (fictional) Kittur, India, shortly after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984. With that lens it looks at many issues including: caste, sexual disease, drug problems, political corruption, the influx of villagers seeking a better life in the city, and much more.

As with many of the books that really speak to me, this one has very strong characters whose stories stick with you long after you’ve moved on from their tale.

4. Fall of Giants

Fall of GiantsIt seems like I’ve only read the biggest books by Ken Follett; first there was Pillars of the Earth, then World Without End and now Fall of Giants. Each of these were either a bit less or a bit more than 1000 pages, so they weren’t all that fun to read on public transit, but they were all very well written.

Fall of Giants is a fictional story based on history and takes place during the 13 1/2 years leading up to the First World War and it’s end. Each character introduced in the book cross paths at one point or another, whether it be an American diplomat coming to the aide of two Russian slum-raised teenagers, or Ethel the former housewife of Earl Fitzherbert of her village rising up in the political ranks and making an adversary of him in the process.

3. The Given Day

The Given DayWhen I saw The Given Day by Dennis Lehane I immediately picked it up. I’d read two of his other novels, Mysic River and Gone Baby Gone and really enjoyed his writing style. This one was a bit different though – still set in Boston the others, but this time in the 1930s.

The novel follows the two main storylines. The first is that of Danny Coughlin, a Boston police officer; the second follows Luther Lawrence, an African American man who just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. The two become intertwined as we see them separately take on issues of unions and race. Lehane does wonders with mingling the two lives and his writing is full of imagery and the words jump off the page to take you back in time.

2. Steve Jobs: Biography

Steve Jobs I managed to get through Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson rather quickly (for my standards) and just posted my review for it a couple days ago, so have a look:

Review of the Steve Jobs biography

I was thinking it would make a great movie. Do you think any director could do it justice and live up to Jobs’s standards? There was a movie called The Pirates of Silicon Valley in 1999 and it starred Noah Wyle as Jobs. I haven’t seen it but I think this biography would make a bit more of an interesting story since so many of Jobs’s friends and enemies have spoken up about him. I also think Christian Bale would make a great Jobs.

1. The Help

The Help

The Help is set in the 1960s and looks at the issue of race relations in Jackson, Mississippi. The premise is ‘Skeeter’ a white woman is looking to the maids of the city to help her write a story from the point of view of ‘the help’. You just have to do a Google search and you’ll see it’s a book that has gotten as much flack as it has praise.

One interesting news article from September says Stockett stole her identity for the character of Aibileen. Her name is Abilene Cooper and she was the maid to Stockett’s brother for 12 years. Much of the similarities are the same, but the case was thrown out.

I feel at the very least the book is a great starting point for race discussions.

My top 5 non-fiction books of 2009

I’m a big fan of fiction novels, but I like to throw in non-fiction every once and a while. I had too many non-fiction books that I wanted to include, so non-fiction got its own list. Here are my top 5 non-fiction books of 2009, what are yours?

NUMBER FIVE

Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada

Black Berry, Sweet Juice was the third Lawrence Hill books that I’ve read. This one was a bit different from the other two because it’s obviously non-fiction. This book allowed Lawrence to draw specifically from his experiences as he went around discussing the topic of being of “mixed race” in Canada. This is a great book for everyone to read just so you can simply understand the experiences that people who are sometimes divided between two halves of their family’s history. It was a great read for me too because if my future is lucky enough I’d like to have a family with my girlfriend who is Punjabi. The book focuses on black and white mixes, but a lot of similarities would hold true for any race mashup. If you pick this one up just beware it’s not like Hill’s other novels; sometimes it can get dry, but overall the message he’s trying to get across is the most important.

NUMBER FOUR

Here Comes Everybody

I read Here Comes Everybody earlier in the year and it was a great help to understand the power of people collaborating in social media. This is also a great boook for anyone in communications/marketing who want to know the influence that social media can have on people. Well written book too. Highly recommended!

NUMBER THREE

Blink: The power of thinking without thinking

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell is a book that takes a deeper look at how we make decisions. This is a great book to read every so often to remind yourself of what you’re decisions are based on. It’s so easy to get caught up in certain marketing tactics that we don’t even think twice. I like books that dive into how the mind operates and this one does it quite well with great examples to back it up. Some non-fiction can be dull and boring but Gladwell’s writing is conversational and begs you to keep reading.

NUMBER TWO

The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point looks into what makes things go from obscurity to extremely popular. This book was surprisingly published in 2002, but it’s still relevant today. Examples look into how exposing your product, business or idea to connectors or social influencers can help spread your reach more than not having a targeted approach. How the book is still relevant is with the growing popularity of Facebook, Twitter and even blogs. The ability to spread your opinion is easier than ever. Everyone who takes part online has the potential to become an influencer. Even though the book didn’t have the social media elements, many in the community still boast about its worth for businesses to read because of its continued relevance. As with Blink, The Tipping Point is also easy to read and a surprising page-turner for a non-fiction book.

NUMBER ONE

Groundswell

Back in June I wrote a review on Groundswell on Burn After Blogging. At the time I was freshly done school and finished my internship so I was in the mindset of a student. After reading the post the main points I wrote about from the book still hold true. Case Studies give examples of how companies have successfully used social media; the post method helps break down how companies can implement their social media strategies; the social technographic profiles give great insights into how specific demographics are using or not using social media.

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