Skip to main content

Book review: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

OutliersOutliers by Malcolm Gladwell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book changed my perspective on achievement and success. Gladwell posits that success depends not on extraordinary talent, but extraordinary opportunities. He makes a compelling case that there’s no such thing as a “self-made” man, but that we’re all products of our cultural legacy, community, and advantages available to us. I especially liked the recurring theme that successful people consistently work harder than their peers; their achievement is a function of their persistence, not their talent.

The book is mostly stories and anecdotes, sprinkled throughout with statistics and analyses. Gladwell is a long-winded storyteller, and takes his time getting to the point. I lowered my rating of the book because of this. I was bored silly by the lengthy chapter on how airplane miscommunications and crashes can be attributed to cultural legacies regarding respect for authority and assertiveness. But, as a technologist, I liked the story of how Bill Gates’ unique opportunities to practice programming during his formative years led him to Microsoft fame and fortune.

Gladwell sets out to prove that (to paraphrase), success arises from the steady accumulation of advantages; when and where you were born, what your parents did for a living, and the circumstances of your upbringing. Our lives are a web of advantages and disadvantages, whether deserved or undeserved. Successful people are those in the right place at the right time, who jump on the opportunities they have to work hard.

Gladwell succinctly summarizes the book near the end, as follows:
“Success follows a predictable course. It’s not the brightest who succeed. Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own. It’s a gift; the successful are those who have been given opportunities, and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”

I liked the point that as long as you have a base level of talent in an area, your success depends on practice. It takes about 10,000 hours of practice to attain expertise, which usually takes about 10 years. Also, the law of diminishing returns applies to intelligence; once you have enough, it ceases to provide an advantage.

Gladwell provides interesting insight into such questions as why Asians excel at math, and why American schoolchildren lag academically. He says that Asian numbering systems (especially Chinese) are more intuitive than Western systems, and their historical cultural legacies of hard work give Asians advantage over Westerners. He also shows the detrimental effects of short school days and summer vacations on American schoolchildren, because they spend less time practicing skills and more time forgetting.

View all my reviews


Popular posts from this blog

The difference between burritos, chimichangas, and enchiladas

I love Mexican food, but I'm embarrassed to admit that I always get confused between burritos, wet burritos, chimichangas, and enchiladas. Here are the descriptions, with the differences in bold and pictures following each description.

A flour tortilla wrapped around a filling (meat, beans, vegetables, etc)

wet burrito
A burrito that's covered in red chili sauce and cheese. Because of the sauce covering, it looks like an enchilada, but it's made with a flour tortilla, whereas the enchilada is made with a corn tortilla.

A burrito that's deep-fried. Sometimes covered with cheese or another topping.

A corn tortilla wrapped around a filling, covered with chili pepper sauce

Wikipedia: BurritoWikipedia: ChimichangaWikipedia: Enchilada

Edit scanned documents with Word 2007

Office 2007 includes support for converting scanned documents to editable text using OCR (optical character recognition). To get your text from a paper document to Word 2007:
In the Control Panel, open Add or Remove Programs.Find Microsoft Office, click it, and click Change.In the Office Installation Options window, expand Office Tools, click Microsoft Office Document Imaging, and select Run from My Computer from the dropdown.Click Continue or Next until you reach the end.You can now scan documents and convert the scanned images to editable text:
From the Start Menu, find Microsoft Office, then select Microsoft Office Tools, then click Microsoft Office Document Scanning.Choose your preset and options, then click Scan.The scanned image should open in Microsoft Office Document Imaging. To perform OCR and open the editable text in Word, click Tools, Send Text to Word.You can now edit and save the scanned document as a Word document.

My LASIK laser eye surgery experience

Yesterday was a turning point in my life; I had laser eye surgery (LASIK)! Here's a brief summary of my experience.

When I was 16, I barely passed the eye exam at the DMV, so they told me I had to see my eye doctor. Being a self-conscious geek, I opted for contacts over the stereotypical glasses. Although they were fine for most of the day, my contacts always dried out around 8 or 9 PM. My friends will tell you they got sick of my complaints that "my eyes feel like corks!" and "these contacts feel like sandpaper!"

Over the years, I've tried more than 10 different types of contacts, including extended wear, overnight wear, and high-moisture contacts. For a while, I even had contacts with bright blue artificial irises to cover my natural grayish ones. I got a lot of compliments, but they didn't help with the dryness.

I decided to put an end to the suffering this year. LASIK isn't cheap; reputable surgeons charge about $2000 per eye. It hurt to max out my…