by Malcolm Gladwell
This entire book may or may not be complete horseshit, all I know is that I ate it all up. Gladwell argues that successful people, exceptional people, outliers, do not achieve their success just because of who they are, just by their talent or genius or hard work. They also have the right set of opportunities presented to them, they are born in the right decade (or even time of year), they have the right sort of parents, they have the right set of great-great-great grandparents. Basically, the have tremendous luck. It's not enough to be a genius with an IQ of 200 to win the Nobel Prize. All of those other factors are either working in or against your favor. To me that's sort of self-evident, and yet I wanted him to keep persuading me with more and more stories. Gladwell's examples include Canadian hockey players, Bill Gates, Robert Oppenheimer, Asian math students, the Beatles, and top NYC lawyers. There was one example I could actually kinda sorta apply to my own life.
Gladwell begins the book by pointing out that a disproportionate amount of successful Canadian hockey players are born in the months of January, February, and March. Since Canada's cutoff date for hockey programs is January 1, a child born on January 2 would start out at the same level as a child born on December 31 of the same year. The January birthday has a twelve-month advantage (critical months when you are still a child), being both physically and mentally more mature. The January birthday will get more playtime, increasing his skills further, and will thus be picked for the stronger league with better coaching and better teammates in the next year, further increasing his skills, etc., etc.
Gladwell then parallels Canadian hockey leagues to America's public schools. A math and science test given to fourth-graders showed that the older students scored significantly higher than the younger students. From kindergarten on, the older students are ushered on as the ones with the more ability (teachers/parents/school systems are confusing maturity with ability), and are placed in the advanced reading and math groups. They learn better skills and next year do even better, etc., etc. And this is where my life story comes in. I entered the public school system in October of 1990. I was six, about to turn seven in less than two months. There were talks of placing me in the second grade -- I could read and I would be turning seven so soon after all. The parents and the school ultimately placed me in the first grade since I didn't speak much English. After that, I was always one of the older students in my classes and one of the successful. If I had been initially placed into second grade, I would have been the youngest, the most behind in my development. Perhaps that would have meant not being up to the standards of the gifted and talented program in the fourth grade, and thus no magnet program in middle school, no academic program in high school, no scholarship in college.
Obviously, just because a Canadian hockey player is born in December doesn't necessarily mean that he won't become a star or the youngest child in the class will not be the best student. But statistically, such cases are significantly fewer in number it seems.
The rest of the book details other components of success with other famous examples. It's an easy read, and you learn that it takes ten thousand hours to master a skill (is that really true??). I urge you to read this book so that we can discuss it and you can tell me what you think. Even if it's to tell me that you think it IS bullshit.
5 out of 5