I can’t recommend this book highly enough. The subjects covered range from the educational advantages given to Bill Gates to the impact of culture on airline crashes.
Gladwell’s gifts are on full display when he is recounting the progress of social science in describing how culture has an impact on the expression of violence. He cites the research of Cohen and Nisbett who found that men from certain sections of this country, who were more likely to have immigrated from places that specialized in herding animals, were more prone to “Code of Honor” violence. The reasoning goes that herders can have their livelihoods wiped out in a single night – traditional farmers/tillers are not subject to such devastating threats. In response to this threat, those with herder ancestors were more prone to aggression and defensiveness which had been shaped by this cultural heritage; a legacy of easily triggered violence that continued despite the fact that a contemporary person had not, nor had any of his ancestors in memory, had any direct contact with herding economy problems. This code of honor violence explains the long standing feuding traditions of of the Appalachian region, according to Gladwell.
In another section, Gladwell describes the dangers of airline crashes that resulted because of cultural values that encouraged deference to authority. He describes several airline crashes that resulted from a lack of assertiveness by pilots even when they clearly knew that they were in danger. Interestingly, this problem was recognized by Flight researchers, though many were hesitant to draw attention to the correlations between authority deference in a culture and the rate of airline crashes. This reluctance, I presume, was due to not wanting to sound prejudiced or ethnocentric. When those countries who had these crash problems directly addressed the cultural issues, by systematic re-training of their pilots, they were able to reverse these crash trends.
Gladwell ends the book by talking about the cultural influences and opportunities that came about for him from his Jamaican background.
I have not read Gladwell’s previous books. I am going to soon correct that oversight.
7 responses to “Outliers: Malcom Gladwell’s book”
Unfortunately in the above review, I neglect to talk about the first section of Gladwell’s book. In this first section he challenges the myth that successful people are successful due to their internal traits such as intelligence, etc. He makes the case that success greatly depends upon luck and the ability to take advantage of opportunity – in other words, more external circumstances that internal gifts.
Because of the private school he attended and a community group that sponsored the school, Bill Gates was given the opportunity to work with and program computers in 1968. A rare opportunity at the time. Gladwell also comments on how many successful people were prepared to exploit opportunities by virtue of their lucky circumstances.
Gladwell makes the point of being born at the right time can have a tremendous impact on one’s likelihood of success in certain areas. For example, he points out that the ideal years of birth for software giants was between 1953 and 1955 – which would have insured that the business candidates would have been in college at the optimal time to adopt computing skills and expertise. He provides example after example of people born during this time: Gates, Jobs, et al.
In summary, this is a great book.
Gladwell describes his book much better than I did.
We lived in Chattanooga, Tennesee for several years and I worked in a nursing home. I had an elderly male patient who was always telling the stories about his ancestors who fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy. This man was in his late 80’s when I took care of him. This man had never married, always lived on the family homestead until his health forced him into the nursing home. He always talked about he hated those no-good damn Yankees.
I always had to smile and laugh when he constantly told me that no damn Yankee was ever going to touch him. Little did he know, I was originally from Chicago, Illinois, and I was the one who was giving him the medical treatment he needed in order for him to sit there and complain in comfort. This man was always polite and thanked me for my kindness.
Culture , or lack of education, does have alot to do with things we think we know and for those things we don’t know.
As for my elderly Confederate patient, I never did tell him I was a damn Yankee (ha,ha).
I fixed it, I fixed it!
I’m telling you, I can do it! I feel just like the little engine! See me pat myself on the back!
Good job, fnord. Consider this a cyber pat on the back.
Gladwell is on my ‘get’ list.
Which is a pretty damned short list.
I’m a low maintenance guy.
More pats, fnord.
I agree about the circumstances of birth and people smart enough to exploit them.
Then you have wastrels like me who were given every advantage and pissed them away.
If I had only known then what I know now. But.. I’d probably still done all the same things.
There’s an an old blues song that applies. “It was fun while it lasted….” Hee hee hee. Until Daddy took the T-bird away! Except in my case it was a ’69 Camaro.