Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

By now Gladwell's modus operandi is well known: he finds a little gem of conventional wisdom and uses statistics and anecdotes from diverse fields to prove that this precious stone is in fact paste. In this case the myth he busts has to do with success. Using the stories of various ultra-successful individuals (Bill Gates, Robert Oppenheimer), and a few spectacular failures (notably Christopher Langan, a man with an IQ higher than Einstein's who wound up working on a horse farm), Gladwell argues that success isn't so much about individual genius or talent as it is about context: the family, culture and historical moment of the successful indidivdual. It's a gripping dismantling — or at least a thorough nuancing — of the American myth of the self-made man.