I read books, I write about books, I would probably marry a book if I could find one who liked me enough. Three words to describe me mature, irresponsible, contradictory, unreliable...oh...that's four...
We're about to review Malcom Gladwell's new book David and Goliath over at LitReactor.com and as it's my job to organise the reviews (if not write them all - thank goodness) I thought it would be sensible to catch up with the only book of Gladwell's I haven't yet read - Outliers
And I'm glad I did, because from the title, I believed this would be the standard story about what makes some people exceptional: they worked hard, they had special talents, they spotted unique opportunities the rest of us missed. I expected to close the covers with the feeling that successful people deserve their success, because they are that bit smarter or more focussed or more observant than everyone else.
But I didn't. Gladwell's whole argument points in the opposite direction to the usual narrative about people at the top. Bill Gates, for example, didn't make it because he's a genius (although he probably is). He made it because he was in the right place at the right time; through a combination of circumstances that practically guaranteed that a young man with his interests and background would succeed and if you add to that a hefty dose of good luck, would succeed big.
Outliers is a much needed antidote to the attitude that the only thing standing between us and megastardom is a lack of application on our part. As Gladwell points out behind every success story is a litany of happenstance. Those of us who aren't billionaires can quit feeling bad about it. According to Gladwell we aren't lazy or dumb. It's just that we weren't in the right place at the right time.
That discovery made me feel quite happy.