Outliers — Review by Chris

What made Steve Jobs, Bill Joy and Bill Gates rise to the top of their fields and change the way we work and live? Some say talent. Some say luck. Some say class advantage. Some say drive and determination.

And they're all right. But what do they all share that puts them in a category unto themselves?

When Malcom Gladwell reveals that information in his newest book Outliers, you'll be surprised — then it will make sense.

That's because Gladwell knows how to explain complicated information in very precise but "plain" language. I have read his other two books, The Tipping Point and Blink, and I enjoyed them very much. His plain language and straight talk make the complex materials and conclusions very understandable.

Having said that, I have to admit: I can't explain it myself very well. And I don't necessarily remember it for very long. (Which may explain why I'm no Steve Jobs.)

However, that I blame on Gladwell's smooth transitions between subjects and topics. His chapters are beautifully organized and his information unfolds like a story. I wanted to know how class and financial status of a family unit influence how children do in school. I wanted to know how an off-the-charts genius could flunk out of school — twice! — and wind up on a small farm in the American Midwest, when other people not even a fraction as smart (including Robert Oppenheimer) manage to navigate the trickiest parts of the institutions that so baffled him. Finally, I simply had to know how it all fits together. Gladwell makes these discoveries a delight to experience.

I was particularly intrigued about the book after hearing an NPR interview with Gladwell, in which he commented on the danger of making general statements about any particular nationality or ethnicity. And yet, this is exactly what Gladwell does — with great success. What problems do Koreans face in the cockpit of a plane? Why are Asians better at math than Caucasians? Why did Jewish lawyers blossom in the latter half of the twentieth century? Can one make general statements about an ethnicity or race without being racist or categorically unfair and biased? Gladwell manages, and give me hope for more honest and probing studies and reports in the future.

I enjoy reading Gladwell's work. I read his work in the Washington Post and New Yorker magazine. I envy and enjoy his turn of phrase and his ability to get to the nut of a thought. His explanations or ideas are not short or truncated; you must follow him down the rabbit hole to get where he is going. It's a decision you will be glad you made.

Please read this book and find out how sometimes, brains and brawn finds assistance in the most unlikely of places — and how something as unexpected as immigration patterns, rice farming or a loan from a local Chinese shopkeeper can impact the human race beyond our wildest imaginations.

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