Book Review – Outliers


I have had a summer renaissance of sorts.  I rediscovered my love of books after many years.  My entire life, I have been an avid reader.  I started reading early, and never really stopped, until the INTERNETS.  Yes, that’s right, the Internets took my love of reading and stole me away from books for far too long.  The internet had just about everything that I could want, and in a condensed format.  This summer, that all changed thanks to my daughter starting to read.  We went to the library to get a library card for the family.  (I know, it’s very sad that I didn’t even have a library card.)  That kicked off the summer of books.  I have read just about non-stop this summer, devouring dozens of books.  I’ll be reviewing some of these books on occasion.  I will start with my favorite book of the summer, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

Outliers is one of those books that you are not going to put down once you’ve started.  It grabs you from the first few pages, and Gladwell does not let you go.  This book explained many of the mysteries of life, and especially my professional life.  It made me think about things that I never thought about before, and shake my head in agreement his assessments.  This book started me on a Gladwell festival, and I quickly snapped up his other works.

The premise of Outliers is to examine the basic question of why certain people become superstars.  Gladwell challenges the notion that “hard work and determination” are the biggest factors in some people becoming elite in their chosen field.  I won’t give away many of the examples, because they are fascinating to see unfold in the book, but I will give you a sample.

Gladwell is attending the Canadian Under 21 Hockey Championships.  He notices that a disproportionate number of the players’ birthdays are in the first three months of the year.  Looking closer, of those with Jan-Mar birthdays, a greater proportion of these birthdays are in January.  Gladwell begins to examine this and finds it extends to all of Canada’s elite hockey teams and players.  Young Canadians begin playing hockey at about 4 years old.  Early on in the Canadian amateur hockey league structure, the best players are singled out and put on elite teams.  The birthday requirement for kids to start playing is 4 years old on Jan 1.  Gladwell finds that the players who are oldest are usually the most physically and mentally mature.  These older kids are quickly moved to the elite all-star teams.  The elite teams practice more, have better instruction, and face better competition.  With better instruction, these kids succeeded at a much higher level.  Does this mean that there are no kids born in November with great hockey skill?  Of course not.  It just means the system is biased toward certain children at an early age.  It also may mean that a large number of potentially great hockey talent is left untapped.

Gladwell talks about several scenarios that help explain why some people “make it” while others just don’t.  The book made me more aware of my own biases and how I might correct them.  The book is crazy interesting, but it is also applicable to everyday life.

Read this book, you won’t be disappointed.

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