Outliers Review

I finished Outliers – The Story of Success – by Malcolm Gladwell recently.

I enjoyed this book. The basic premise is that it does away with the idea that successful people in any given profession were somehow built differently than us and through some bit of magic attained these amazing feats in their lives. Malcolm argues differently. He argues that this success came not from this magic, but rather from where they grew up or their genes or backgrounds, or the year that they were born, or even the month of the year. He of course supports these arguments with many examples. 

The Matthew Effect

Talks about how kids in Canada have a huge advantage over others if they were born early in the year – like in Jan-Mar – based on their physical size and the cutoffs for hockey teams (the cutoff is January first). Basically, if you were born early in the year, you were more likely to be physically  larger. If you were larger, the coaches would more likely want you to play more. By playing more you were given better chances and more opportunities than your counterparts, especially those born late in the year. 

The 10,000 Hour Rule

His point in this chapter was that it takes about 10000 hours to be a top expert in just about anything… And again he cites many examples including the Beatles and Bill Gates.

The Trouble with Geniuses

This chapter focused on how just because you might be a genius doesn’t necessarily translate into assured success. It’s more about being within a certain threshold that matters (For example, Michael Jordan may be the best basketball player, however if he were 7′ tall he would not be a better player. There is a threshold (he has to be probably taller than 6′ to have gotten to his level of play).

The Three Lessons of Joe Flom

This was about how to be one of the most powerful lawyers in New York was really about what religion (Jewish) you grew up, where you grew up (New York) and what year you did this in (the 50’s). He talks about the chain reaction of events that led Joe Flom from a nobody into one of the elite attorneys in NY.

Harlan, KY

Talks about how your ancestry really has huge impact on your current mindset and success. The example that he points out are the old Hatfield vs. McCoy type communities in Harlan, KY. The point of the chapter was about how a lot of the mentality that existed in that beltway had to do with the fact that many of these people were from families that came over on a boat from Ireland and were sheep or goat herders in the mountains. He talks about the innate distrust that they had for fear of losing part of their herd. A very interesting piece. The chapter ended with him talking about the mentality of Northerners vs. Southerners. I won’t try to reconstruct it – rather you should go read this page. I found it fascinating. Click here.

The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes

Another great chapter – this time talking about how your culture can lead to you being good – or not good in this case – at things. Specifically Korean pilots at one point had some of the highest incidents of plane crashes throughout the world. It was discovered that it was mostly due to the fact that they were not at all assertive towards those of higher cultural status. This is not a trait you want in a first mate when he realizes that the plane is seriously low on gas or maybe the captain did not see something he should have and the message gets mumbled or poorly articulated due to this deference. 

Rice Paddies and Math Tests

This chapter talked about how Asians are very good at math – and you might be able to link this ability back to the way that numbers are construed in their language. Whereas English has a very poor system of constructing numbers — why do we have 11 (Eleven), but also 21 (Twenty one)? Shouldn’t it be Ten-one? Wouldn’t that make more sense? Well in Asian cultures it is like that and he makes this remarkable point : 

“That difference means that Asian children learn to count much faster. Four year old Chinese children can count, on average, up to forty. American children, at that age, can only count to fifteen, and don’t reach forty until they’re five: by the age of five, in other words, American children are already a year behind their Asian counterparts in the most fundamental of math skills.”

Further reading here.


This book was not what I was expecting. I had expected some type of self help – how to manual on being excellent at whatever you do. In contrast, it was an attempt to explain that true success is more than just something innate – it can be random to your birth year, location, heritage, language, or culture. A fascinating read that I recommend.


Edit- Slashdot just reviewed it as well here.