I just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Outliers: The Story of Success.
I was just a tad apprehensive when I heard about the book, a while ago, since it is rather close–semantically, if not conceptually–to my forthcoming book. And this guy is, after all, Malcolm Gladwell. But I have to say that I am relieved.
That’s not a verdict on the book’s quality. As usual, readers seem to be split between lovers and loathers. Personally I quite enjoyed Outliers. I read it fast (always a good sign) and became immersed in it. Yes, he rather stretches his point with his “rice-paddy” theory about why Asians are so good at math. But I’ve never been burdened with the expectation that I should agree with a book in order to like it.
No, I’m relieved because it’s such a totally different and non-overlapping approach to “the story of success”. Gladwell wants to dispel the myth of the heroic individual who overcomes all odds and earns success all by himself. So Gladwell chooses stories that make clear how such alleged heroes become successful only because they are embedded into social contexts–ethnicity, class, family, and (notably) age–that give them opportunities and make them thrive. It is a communitarian vision, meant to temper individualism run amok. I have no problem with that.
My book, by contrast, starts and ends with individuals–and in particular with types (or archetypes, if you want to get Jungian). So we experience each individual character, starting with Hannibal, as both unique and universal.
The other difference, of course, is that I am just as interested in failure as in success, since those two scoundrels together are the dynamic duo that Kipling called the two impostors.
That said, Outliers is a good book. It is well written. If I may say so, Gladwell and I have roughly the same approach to story-telling.