HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers

Well, with the holiday season approaching, many new books appear that might be worth a read.  The Washington Post provides a quick review of Malcolm Gladwell's lastest work, Outliers.  I have enjoyed his earlier works, Tipping Point and Blink because of his interesting use of social science research to describe various aspects of our society.  The Post is not as enthusiastic about this work but it does have some appeal for those who are interested in the nature/nurture debates and what makes some people more successful than others.  Here is an excerpt from the Post's review,

Image_7861904 With his knack for spotting curious findings in the social sciences, his vivid writing about phenomena that he has named (The Tipping Point, Blink), his signature Afro and his star quality in public appearances, Malcolm Gladwell stands out among contemporary writers: In his own terms, he is one of the outliers -- "men and women who do things that are out of the ordinary."

As an outlier, Gladwell turns conventional wisdom on its head. In much of the world, particularly in the United States today, we attribute success to the attributes of the individual. In other regions, and in other eras, great achievements are attributed to luck or fate. But the pendulum of explanation swings. Following a period in which it was politically incorrect to invoke nature, we now find ourselves in an era in which biological causes are all too readily cited.

By reconceptualizing the relationship between nature and nurture, Gladwell performs a valuable service. He assembles a powerful brief in favor of the argument that the time, place and resources available to individuals and groups are decisive factors in their eventual success or failure. In vintage Gladwellian fashion, he applies this lens to a fascinating array of cases, many of them unfamiliar, and culminates with an account of one outlier to whom he has special access: himself. . . .

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