Another book on success (Gladwell’s)

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.

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5 thoughts on “Another book on success (Gladwell’s)

  1. Well, Andreas, you’ve left me in the dust again. Especially after yesterday. I’m going to lower the bar. (need another metaphor?). A great story needs a great title. I may have mentioned that the Missus teaches middle shool English. Here are some titles from ‘scary’ stories written by her fifth graders (her school, I might add, was just ranked as the best independent school in Colorado).

    Deathball
    Mystery Corn
    What’s Under That?
    Just Open the Door
    Was That You?
    The Secret Cats
    Burn Me to Death
    White Too White
    The Lost Shoe
    The Cow Chase
    Crazy Stuff at the Stadium
    Dead on Broadway
    Dock Collapsing
    Flying Shards
    Blinded by Song
    Butterflies of Altitude
    Dad or Ghost or Ice?
    Paper Cut, Come on Guys, Let’s Go
    What’s in the Pool?
    My Friend and I Are Officially Lost
    What the Heck Is an Asylum?
    Gee, What a Spooky Graveyard!
    Back Down the River of Doom
    The Black Lake’s Pet
    The Big Long Road to the Barn
    Arena Bulls
    Spider Toolshed
    Big Tree Bees
    Sleepover With No One
    Sleeping at Risk
    Cut Neck
    Old Dirty Cabin
    Moving Tree
    Blood on the Floor
    The Ghost, the Toys, and the Store
    Fishing at Night
    Capital (sic) Building
    Looked in a Shed
    30 Days of Night
    Never Fly in an Airplane During an Apocalypse

  2. Great things are happening in Mrs. Crotchety’s classroom.

    My favorite title ( da- daaa….)

    Sleepover with No One

    Give that kid a big fat A.

    Second place ( da-daaa…)

    Never Fly an Airplane During an Apocalypse

    Give that kid a big fat A.

  3. Deathball sounds like Michael Lewis.
    The Cow Chase: Grisham.
    Dead on Broadway: Agatha Christie
    Mystery Corn: Michael Pollan
    The Black Lake’s Pet: Dan Brown

    I’d rather not read What’s in The Pool…..

  4. The list is related to the most recent challenge (6 Feb) to think about stories and story tellers.

    I probably should have shortened the list out of respect for Mr. Kluth, but I felt it needed to be presented ‘ensemble.’ From the students’ point of view, it was an excercise in writing a compelling title. I’m saving ‘Dad or Ghost or Ice’ for my memoirs.

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