The audiobook reviewed here is ‘Outliers’ written and read by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell is a journalist and established author who has had success with books such as ‘Tipping Point’ and ‘Blink’. Regarding the narration, Gladwell speaks slowly, clearly and persuasively through the audio. Turning to the content, Gladwell looks at the effects of ‘cultural legacy’ on success. In essence he is helping to answer a question about the influence of the environment in shaping our lives. The outliers in the title refers to people who lie outside the two standard deviations of the population and who have attained extraordinairy success. As in other popular science books that have emerged recently, Gladwell develops the theme of the 10,000 hours needed to attain expertise in a subject ( Indeed in medicine, changes to the working conditions of junior doctors has reduced the number of available hours for training and this has provoked considerable debate). His interpretation of the success of the Beatles will surprise some. He argues that not only is a considerable amount of hard work required to develop success, but also the right opportunities are needed to ensure that hard work is met with success.
Here a very subtle theme in his book emerges – that these circumstances take a considerable time to arise and it make take even centuries. He is not afraid to take anthropological and sociological research findings on a variety of cultural issues and condense them into simple and persuasive arguments. As an example, Gladwell looks at the results of children across the world on maths tests and notes that there are parts of Asia where the children emerge a clear standard deviation ahead of children in other parts of the world. I was reminded of the book Spark (reviewed here) which looked at how children in one school in America who utilised a sophisticated exercise program were able to buck the national trend (although there have been other interpretations of this also). He relates this to cultures in which persistent hard work are encouraged and that this has been encouraged over centuries. He brings counterexamples to support his argument. He also brings his own story into the work. I thought that writing in this way was quite courageous as it can be very difficult to write publicly about such personal material. He outlines how the conditions experienced by his Jamaican ancestry were needed to culminate in the experiences he needed to arrive at where he is. Gladwell takes the issue of environmental influence on behaviour and gives it a new lease of life, communicating the ideas convincingly and at the same time espousing the influence of cultural legacy and hard work as well as also raising the possibility that we can as a society move towards an environment which affords the needed (good enough) opportunities for all.
Malcolm Gladwell. Outliers. Read by Malcolm Gladwell. 2008. Hachette Audio
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