Book review: Outliers

Malcolm Gladwell is brilliant. His book on success, and the societal context that comes behind every single ‘outlier’ is exceptionally well-researched and written.


Gladwell takes the reader through a range of examples, from hockey to plane crashes, law firms and software whiz kids, carefully tracing the path of famous high-achievers all the way through their childhood opportunities, family expectations, access to support and the tools to practice their craft, and back to their culture’s values.

Stories which seem incredible, and rare, are transformed to reveal the mix of luck and effort that make such arcs of triumph inevitable.

Working hard, and having the right circumstances to allow you to thrive, are the secrets behind all outliers. Talent is but a tiny part of the equation, and factors that we don’t normally like to acknowledge have a far greater influence.

Where we come from matters, Gladwell argues. And he is persuasive in his argument. Norms and behaviours are retained from one generation to the next, even when the original pressure for certain tendencies has long past. So much of who we are and what we do depends on ancestors we have never met, and factors which were of vital importance in their lives.

Outliers far surpassed my expectations and has subtly shifted the way I think about the world. It should be read in schools up and down the country, so more children can learn exactly how much they can influence their success – and how much is already determined.