Book Review: Outliers by Malcom Gladwell

By Angela Maria Hart

I first read Outliers when I was a freshman in college at Bentley University. One of my teachers made reference to the fact that it requires “ten thousand hours” to be a professional at whatever tasks or career someone wants to pursue. Gladwell’s “ten thousand hours” rule has become widely known and cited. The rule itself is in reference to practicing over and over and over again until mastering that subject. This is true for writing, too.

Recently, I reread the book from start to finish. I still love it. For those reading who are unfamiliar with the term outlier, it is in reference to something out of the norm or classified differently from something that is standard. As Malcom Gladwell puts it, “This is a book about outliers, about men and women who do things that out of the ordinary.”

This is one of those rare books that I believe has quote-worthy lines on nearly every page. Malcom Gladwell is not only a masterful writer but he is a superb researcher and writes in a very communicative fashion. Gladwell is easily understood and explains his logic in a phenomenal manner.

Outliers addresses the fact that people do not necessarily rise from nothing. The American dream is synonymous with the thought of people coming from nothing and reaching a point in their lives where they have wealth, family, love, and have succeeded in every possible way. For example, if someone is the best athlete at their particular sport that does not necessarily mean that they will become the face of their sport. There not only needs to be a talent but there needs to be opportunities and chances to master their craft and demonstrate success. There are other factors, sometimes unknown to people, that contribute to their future.

One of my favorite examples from Outliers is the fact that hockey players tend to be born within the winter months. After doing research it became apparent that a lot of famous Canadian hockey players were all born during the months of January, February, and March. According to Gladwell, “It’s simply that in Canada the eligibility cut-off for age-class hockey is January first.” A rule put in place for children’s hockey can have long-term effects, potentially affecting one’s ability to become a professional hockey player. If given more opportunities and the chance to compete against older hockey players, younger players will rise to the occasion and grow to become more skillful. Those children born in the summer months will have a different opportunity and experience due to the fact that they were born at a different time. Things as random as rules put in place for children can have lasting effects. Outliers addresses the notion that it is not necessarily about one’s natural ability, but opportunities offered to them over the course of their life and how timing truly is impactful.

Gladwell also addresses the fact that success is not a random act and that everything comes into play in a person’s life. Everything from parenting techniques to clubs offered in middle school can determine someone’s future success. One particular lawyer became very well known in his field because he had studied a niche area in school that not too many other students had pursued and, due to a particular time in history, his intelligence was more valuable prompting him to become more successful in his law career. There are a variety of other unknown and unexpected factors that contribute to the overall end result of someone’s success. Gladwell wrote, “Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – and to have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”

This book does not try to deter people from attempting to gain success. Outliers offers a sense of understanding and analysis in regards to why certain individuals are successful and others are not. By learning all the elements that contribute to create other successful people, hopefully, readers can find moments in their own lives to mimic, mirror, or learn from. I highly recommend Outliers to all readers.