Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Review of "Outliers"

Ok, so the book is what - 5 years old?  My cousin gave me a copy so I just started reading it this year!  In fact, I just finished it just a short while ago.  I've been waiting for that to happen to be able to really write a review.

I really enjoyed the book.  It says a lot of what I've always felt - we don't achieve alone, persist,  practice.  He makes a point about success of minority law students from U. of Michigan - they made the threshold, they were smart enough and after law school had achieved every bit as well as non-minority students.  I loved that!  I also found lots of the book to be fascinating.  It was intriguing to learn that plane crashes were in any way linked to communication patterns (well, I should have guessed that,  as I've always had a theory that 90% of the world's problems are due to communication problems) and that the Chinese numeration system is much simpler than ours.  For me, the very best chapters were: "The 10,000 - Hour Rule" and "Rice Paddies and Math Tests".  I also found "The Three Lessons of Joe Flom" chapter quite interesting.

Now for a bit of a critique and a few questions/thoughts.  Keep in mind that I still think this is a fine book.  First, I found "The Three Lessons of Joe Flom"  chapter a bit mish-mashy and I didn't feel it was as tied together as well it could have been.  Also, "The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes"  chapter was very interesting, but I was a bit put off by the end of this chapter where he recounts the end moments of the central plane crash.  I don't know if Gladwell wanted this to be some sort of memorial to the crash victims, but couldn't that have been done in the ending of a section of the chapter?  It might have been nice to end the chapter as a whole with the positive developments in this area.

Now for some thoughts and questions:

1) In the chapter "The Three Lessons of Joe Flom" , several career genealogies are given, showing how generations progressed toward professions.  In the end line, the only professions shown were doctor and lawyer.  Not one teacher, professor, scientist,  engineer?  Were there none in the studies?  Were these selected at random?  As an educator (retired now) I would hope we count as "professionals"!

2)  While reading The chapter "Harlan, Kentucky", which is about "cultures of honor", I immediately thought of its implications in U.S. History.  For example, Pres. Andrew Jackson was of Scots-Irish descent and was known to fight duels ( I do think I heard his wife did calm him down at least once)  over 'honor'.    Has a "culture of honor" mentality affected our leaders, citizen groups and thus, our history?  Maybe that's not in the scope of the book, but I think an interesting area for discussion.  I also thought about how current urban street culture might fit into this "culture of honor" mold.  Might this be a way to approach looking at this 'culture'?

3) As a retired educator, I was heartened to read that Gladwell thought education was working, but many students need more of it.  They may not have the summer opportunities for learning, even informally, some other students might.  This is definitely a challenge to our society.  Lengthening the school year is much discussed, but hard to accomplish.  I'm sure one reason is that teachers really could use a break to recharge!  Maybe we could look at creating programs staffed by volunteers, part-time teachers, or teachers who want extra work (!) to do some creative, but still educational experiences in summer.  With so many parents working, something like this on a more regular basis for most of the summer might be quite welcome.

I really felt this was an excellent read.  Gladwell has just published a new book, "David and Goliath", which is about underdogs, advantages and disadvantages.  This sounds promising.  Keep on reading, folks!

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