Yesterday I finished a book that I started a month ago.
A MONTH AGO.
What. The. Heck?
At one point I was reading a book a week (or more!) and now it takes me a month?! Well, there is a perfectly logical 2-part explanation for this:
(1) I recently started listening to podcasts (originally to give my eyes a break) and have since become obsessed. Instead of reaching for a book on my long, almost-daily train rides to and from the city, I now find myself grabbing my iPod instead.
(2) The book I was reading, Outliers, just wasn’t that good.
Nowadays it’s very rare for me to buy a new book. Given the fact that new books can cost well over $20 and there’s a little thing called libraries, it’s just not worth it for me. That’s why it was a big deal when I decided to pick up Outliers from Barnes and Nobles. I had heard so much about it and thought I could surely make an exception for a book this good. So…I handed over my money to the man at checkout and headed home to see what all the hub was all about.
Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, begins with the Roseto Mystery, which briefly tells the story of a village in the 1900’s whose people were mysteriously immune to diseases and sicknesses. In the town to the left, people were dying of heart diseases. Naturally so were the people in the town to the right. But for some reason, the people in Roseto were simply dying of old age. No deadly illnesses. No chronic diseases. Doctors and scientists researched the causes of this phenomena, and it is here that Gladwell vows to find the root cause of success, the same way doctors found the cause of this mysteriously healthy village.
But the problem with this story, and the problem with this entire book, is that I don’t know if I entirely buy it. The cause/solution/answer does not satisfy me.
Scientists and doctors claimed that the secret of Roseto “wasn’t diet or exercise or genes or location. It had to be Roseto itself.” They went on to claim that the way they lived (because of the culture they brought over from Italy) was entirely the reason.
Stopping to chat in Italian on the street.
Cooking for one another in their backyards.
Discouraging the wealthy from flaunting their success.
That answer just doesn’t satisfy me. I don’t think being happy and upbeat and cooking for each other can prevent illnesses and disease. I know people who have gotten cancer or succumbed to heart disease who were full of life, happiness, and positive energy. I just don’t think you can say that health is determined by these exterior factors. Can they help? Maybe. But I don’t think this can be a scientifical, logical explanation.
As I flipped the page over to begin the first chapter (The Roseto Mystery was merely an introduction), I was a little bit discouraged and a little bit skeptical. Still, I was willing to give this book a try.
The first chapter pertained to hockey and claimed that most hockey players were born in January-March and that there was a logical explanation for this. I was so interested and so stunned for a minute – but then I did my own research. And honestly, my findings just didn’t match up to Gladwell’s. Some of the best hockey players in the world, like Sidney Crosby, were born in August. Gladwell claims that by being born at the beginning of the year, you’re one of the oldest in your grade, which gives you huge advantages, such as your height and size. But that doesn’t make sense. Not everyone grows at the same pace. An 8-year-old could be a foot taller and a good 20 pounds more than a 10-year-old. I mean, when I was in 3rd grade, there were kindergartners who towered over me! So no, I didn’t buy his little explanation.
As the book went on, some chapters intrigued me and made sense, but others I called complete BS on.
Take, for example, the chapter on Christopher Langan, a man who has an IQ of 195. (Albert Einstein’s, by comparison, was 150.) Langan is one of the smartest men in the world, but never reached success because of the way he grew up. (Poor, single mom, etc.) I don’t know. I just completely call BS on that. You can’t just blame your situation on your inability to be successful. I completely get that it might’ve been harder, and that there might’ve been obstacles, but there are people in the world who have made something out of nothing. Maybe he didn’t reach success because he was lazy. Or didn’t really want it badly enough. I don’t know. Call me optimistic (which I’m not), but I refuse to believe that we’re dealt a certain stack of cards in life and must accept them.
Gladwell then did a chapter directly after discussing Bill Gates and his success, which was largely due to being given certain opportunities. I can 100% agree with that. What I can’t agree with is that success is not possible without these opportunities. I just don’t believe it.
Outliers tells a total of 11 stories (1 introduction, 9 chapters, and 1 epilogue) and all of them are formulated the same way. Gladwell finds a phenomena of success (or failure) and attempts to find its cause. But I just don’t think he does. It kind of feels like Gladwell is an amateur doctor, slapping bandaids on wounds that require stitches, and tossing out random diagnoses that don’t quite fit. It feels like he has a severe case of tunnel vision.
There are 6 full pages of positive reviews and accolades in the beginning of this book. On GoodReads, it currently has a rating of 4.1. People from all around the world have read this book and loved it, but that just wasn’t the case for me. I don’t know. Maybe I’m weird.
I’d LOVE to hear what you thought of this book if you read it! Feel free to leave a comment and give your opinion!
Until next time…