Friday, May 15, 2009

Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell

I bought Blink at a Barnes & Noble or Borders (can't remember) in L.A. (can't remember what part) because it was part of a "Buy 1, Get the 2nd 50% off" promotion along with Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down, which I had been wanting to read. I read the Hornby book back in October 2007 and it is one of the first reviews on this blog. I picked up Blink now and again whenever I didn't have anything better to read, and I never really got into it. At the time I first glanced at it, I was looking for a job in L.A., and it made me think, "Well, if I go into an interview, they will decide whether or not to hire me in the first second, regardless of what I say," and it made me nervous that nothing mattered, that first impressions counted more than common sense would like us to believe. This may be an oversimplification of that volume's thesis (and I'm not really sure, because I never read the entire thing, only about half, and scattershot at best) but it appears to me that Gladwell is on the forefront of a new movement in sociology that is highly influenced by the "sound-bite" theory of new media. There is a definite hook to his idea, but in the end it does not really tell us that much about ourselves that we didn't already know.

Thus, Outliers. I wanted to read this book because it was popular and new (came out in late 2008) and because I thought it would tell me the secret to being sucessful. No such luck. If you read this book, you will learn why Bill Gates and the Beatles became successful. It has to do with practicing one thing for 10,000 hours. You will learn why so many hockey players are born in January. You will learn why Jewish lawyers born in the early 1930s whose parents worked in the garment business and who specialized in corporate takeovers are great successes not because of their intellect, but because of their circumstances. By the end, the book had become so repetitive at hammering home this idea that I just wanted to skim the text because it had become so predictable.

The best part about the book is the chapter on plane crashes. It made me want to become an airline pilot. The transcriptions from the black box recorder are dramatic, morbidly depressing, tragi-comic, and very unsettling. It all ends up having to do with Korean Air and how they had such a horrible record of plane crashes and how they turned it around.

I don't even know what I want to say about this book. It became a chore for me to read after a while. I'm glad it's over. I don't recommend it, but it is depressing and funny to think about what people will be saying about people born between 1980-1987, or whatever, seventy years from now. We are products of our circumstances, sure. And there's no way out. You're either lucky or you're not. If you're Asian, you'll be good at math and properly adjusted to the concept of rising before dawn 360 days out of the year. If you're an American inured to the long summer break rule of the predominant educational system, you'll be limited in ways you never knew. Reading this book made me feel pathetic and hopeless. Some of it may be "interesting" and "revealing"--and non-fiction sociological texts serve a different purpose than fiction--but still, I would have liked to see a small qualification, one random deviation to give the regular everyday reader a tiny smidgen of hope that they would be able to do something great with their life even if they weren't lucky in all the right ways.

No comments: