Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: A review

Twenty-fifth book reviewed as part of the 130 Challenge.

This is the third time I’ve tried to read Malcolm Gladwell and I’m sorry to say that I’m still not impressed. First one I tried was Blink. I grew tired of it really quickly (I want to make a ‘blink of an eye’ pun but I feel sad for Gladwell) as it just had a lot of trivia without really going anywhere. There was nothing substantial to be had there. Next came Tipping Point and it bored me even quicker. Both of these books I tried to read, but couldn’t finish. I read Blink about half, but Tipping point I left after around 40 pages.

This time, I decided to stick with the book, as it had been recommended highly to me by two people who are very dear to me. So I persevered till the end, hoping that somewhere I will find something to write home about. But nothing. Like the other two by Gladwell, this book too packs a lot of trivia without really going anywhere. I would sum it up as a great exercise in confusing correlation with causation.

Outliers cover

You know a book will be shitty when it has to give itself a star.

A full disclosure would require me to reveal that I have never really taken a keen interest in such revolutionary books that are supposed to transform your life after you read them. So, I will just go ahead and admit it, it might just be possible that I’m not able to see the enlightening aspect of this genre.

Anyway, I still can’t just recommend this book on the off-chance that someone else might gain from it, because I found it to be a major waste of time. Whatever little makes sense in this book is common sense – Luck is important for success, hard work pays, sometimes geniuses can end up as failures too, etc. And when it doesn’t, it’s Gladwell trying hard to peer through the mist and find connections where there are none. After frantically connecting the dots, he does find a lot of patterns, and for this I must give him credit. He takes a huge number of cases of exceptional people and attempts to demystify their success. However, you might expect that he will come up with an incredible insight, and he doesn’t.

All that Outliers will tell you is that highly successful people tend to be successful not just because of their talent, but because they were at the right place at the right time.. except.. when they don’t. There are a lot of exceptional cases to this too and Gladwell addresses them in his book, but that only adds to the confusion.. and the fact that Gladwell deftly goes around this by incorporating them into his theory as the outliers of outliers, makes it even more frustrating!

Take for example the 10000 hour theory. First of all, let me tell you that it is common sense that people who work really hard will become good at the thing they worked hard upon. So, there’s no insight to be gained from this. But then again, in most of his cases the number of hours are just an estimate and there is no reason why the people didn’t actually exaggerate it.

And even if they did work on their craft for 10000 hours or more to become masters, there are exceptions that Gladwell himself talks about, like Bobby Fischer who supposedly became a champ before he reached the magic number. Or the Beatles, who took only 7 years instead of the mandatory 10 that Gladwell advises to become rock and roll sensations.

But in the end, what is so special about this arbitrary number? Is it like puberty? Does one automatically become good if they do something for an insane number of hours? No. There are a lot more factors that can’t be factored into this (heh, bad pun), though Gladwell tried hard to do that.

I could go on and on about the IQ stories and what not in the book, but that would make this really long review even longer. So, here’s how I will end this review – If you liked ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne or get excited by books that promise startling revelations about the way the world works, then this is the book for you. If not, you’d rather read the labels on cereal boxes for the trivia, than this.

Now Gladwell might not have the gift of logic, but he sure has a way with words (not really). Check out notable quotes from his book.

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3 comments

  1. Good review … On a tangential note, Correlation does not imply Causation for sure. But the thing is, the entire Data Analytic Industry and most of Stock Market analysis, and other Micro/Macro-Economic analysis tries to do just this. It might be part of the human condition to want to make sense of the data and situation in front of us – even indulging in logical fallacies to this end.

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    1. Hmm. Excellent point! Makes me rethink my entire analysis of the book.

      Yet, you do understand where I’m coming from, right? This is not heuristics we’re talking about. This is extrapolation from very little data. Or maybe sufficient data, but extrapolation nonetheless.

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  2. Anish Vyavahare · · Reply

    Outliers was a bad book. Blink and Tipping Point are excellent. I would never recommend Outliers to anyone. I would recommend Blink and Tipping Piint to everyone and I do.

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