Outliers: The Story of Success

Posted April 28, 2012 by Tara in Review /// 5 Comments

Boring cover, like his others, but interesting inside.

Outliers: The Story of Success
by Malcolm Gladwell
Little, Brown and Co.
Audiobook from public library
[#37 in my 75 Book Challenge]

I’m going to tell you a story. It’s about me, many moons ago. Circa 2007…ish. This version of me was a little bit naive, a little less educated (both formally and practically), and not nearly as well read. 2007 me read a book that blew my mind. I loved it. I recommended to my friends, put it on my top 10 list, and five-starred the crap out of it on LibraryThing. That book was The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. I read Blink and had the same reaction.

This book made me reconsider all of that Malcolm Gladwell love. Now I’m just in Malcolm Gladwell like.

What I like about Malcolm Gladwell is his think-outside-the-box, look-at-things-logically kind of style. I always enjoy a good dose of critical thinking or challenging assumptions. The ideas presented in this book were interesting and thought-provoking. It’s certainly an entertaining read. What I question is the research behind these claims. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a good book! But not super-mega-amazing top-10-of-all-time worthy good. More like regular ol’ “I’m glad I read that, thank you for the fun nine hours of aural pleasure” good.

For the curious, here are the main topics covered:

  • Why birthdays matter in professional hockey
  • Why Bill Gates, Mozart, and The Beatles were so successful
  • Why Jewish lawyers hit it big in the 80’s and 90’s
  • Why Asian students are better at math
  • Why KIPP schools work
  • Why a Korean airplane crashed
  • Why Kentucky families killed each other
  • Does IQ predict success?

Gladwell explains what Outliers are and how they occur by focusing on the readers’ assumptions and then analyzing the real story more closely. In the end, his claims make a lot of sense. Each individual example may have flaws, but the basic premise works. My favorite sections, by far, were the ones about education. Gladwell’s discussion of how hard work, cultural background, IQ, luck, time, and socio-economic status all affect student achievement (or don’t) was worth a listen for any educator. It certainly made me think of how we are educating students in my school and about my own educational background.

FINAL GRADE:  C   Good. Worth reading, but glad I checked it out from the library. I will be giving The Tipping Point a re-read at some point to see if my perception has changed — maybe it still holds up? I do recommend it to anyone who liked Gladwell’s other books, or to anyone who likes the Freakonomics books. Just remember to think critically while you read or listen. Don’t take it all to seriously. Take it with a grain of salt, and understand that this is entertainment reading, not hard science.

Did you ever read The Tipping Point or Freakonomics or any of the related books? What was your take on this genre of non-fiction?


Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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5 responses to “Outliers: The Story of Success

  1. I’m in a book club with some girls from work and we’re reading Malcom Gladwell’s ‘What the Dogs Saw’, a collection of his New Yorker essays. Everyone else in the group has read ‘Tipping Point’, ‘Outliers’, or ‘Blink’ but I had never even hear of him. We’re not super blown away by ‘What the Dogs Saw’, but maybe I should give one of the others a try.

    • Miss Anderson

      Read The Tipping Point first…I think he was more inspired when writing that one. And maybe I’ll stay away from What the Dog Saw!

  2. I read part of Blink. I thought it was very interesting but like you (and my Psychology professor) said, it’s not hard science. There are well-written books in this genre out there that do have the back-up of hard research, and I prefer those. That being said, I’ll probably still read his books, because a little education can never hurt even when there isn’t rock solid proof (lots of what we learn isn’t!).

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