Sitzbook Review: “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell


I’m still in Sitzbook housecleaning mode, so I’ll keep doing a few more posts with some random quotes from books that I’ve liked recently. Here are two from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success.

“The historian David Arkush once compared Russian and Chinese peasant proverbs, and the differences are striking. ‘If God does not bring it, the earth will not give it’ is a typical Russian proverb. That’s the kind of fatalism and pessimism typical of a repressive feudal system, where peasants have no reason to believe in the efficacy of their own work. On the other hand, Arkush writes, Chinese proverbs are striking in their belief that ‘hard work, shrewd planning and self-reliance or cooperation with a small group will in time bring recompense.'”

That one caught my attention because I often hear “Si Dios quiere,” or “God willing” here in Costa Rica. I don’t mean to say that I think that’s a bad saying, but I do wonder what kind of effect saying it after nearly every statement has on a culture’s outlook after many generations.

The other quote that I liked concerned what exactly an outlier is. In the book, Gladwell describes different success stories, and finds that many of them have patterns that grouped them together with other successful people. That’s a one-sentence synopsis, but the book was interesting and worth reading if that got your brain juices flowing.

Anyhow, here’s the other quote:

“It is impossible for a hockey player, or Bill Joy, or Robert Oppenheimer, or any other outlier for that matter, to look down from their lofty perch and say with truthfulness, ‘I did this, all by myself.’ Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don’t. They are products of history and community, or opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky–but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.”

I’ve read several other Gladwell books and although I recognize that people criticize him for having too much of a one-track mind in some of his theses, they are generally interesting and entertaining, and this one was no exception.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to be back in a day or two with more book nerd fun!

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Errand-Running Monkey at Sitzblog
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