“Outliers”

December 17, 2008 at 5:12 pm | Posted in Nonfiction | 1 Comment

I’m definitely with the masses on this one.  Malcolm Gladwell is a genius.  I’ve found all his books to be such compulsive reads that I’m finished within 24 hours.  There’s absolutely no question of putting a Gladwell book aside to read something else.

Along with all his other fans, I’ll tell you why I like Gladwell’s books.  “They make you think.”  Sure, they make me think, but I’m pretty sure they’ll make other people think, too – a distinction I’m not able to make as often as I would have thought when I was young and naive.

This is where Gladwell’s critics are missing the point.  Even if you hate all his conclusions and aren’t impressed by how he puts a book together, you have to concede that he’s one of the few writers who can lure the ordinary reading public into sampling nonfiction.

Now I’ll criticize the criticism.  (I always skim through the worst reviews I can find on Amazon to see what they have to say).  People complained about Blink that Gladwell contradicted himself, saying at one point that snap judgments are good and then at another point saying they are bad.  Um, yeah?  Hammers can be used for both good and ill, too.  I thought it made the book stronger that Gladwell pointed out multiple sides of the issue, because hey, that’s how real life works.

Outliers had more of a cohesive thesis, so of course somebody else had to complain about that.  Oh, no!  An author makes a clear case for an opinion!  We can’t have that – it sounds… political!  For heaven’s sake.  If you can only read about ideas that mesh with your own world view, you might as well not bother reading at all.  Stick to popular fiction and just let your poor tight little mind relax into pudding.  You know you want to.

I agree with Gladwell that opportunity is an intrinsic element of success, and I believe that the easier someone’s life has been, the less likely he is to realize how challenging it can be for others.  There’s simply nothing plugged in to the ‘adversity’ slot in the brain.  It can be painful to listen to people who really Have It All – and always have – ranting about how others Don’t Know How to Work or Want Everything Handed to Them.  Why not make the playing field a little more level?  The worst that can happen if you give someone an opportunity is that it will be screwed up.  I think it’s terrific that writers like Gladwell use their influence to try to affect society in a positive way, while simultaneously giving credit where it is due to why they have achieved that place of influence.

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