Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I realize that this book has been out for some time, and I am notoriously behind the wave regarding when I read new -- or not so new -- books.

Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, is one of those efforts that cause thoughtful readers to kill sacred cows and burst favorite bubbles of conventional wisdom.

The most useful contribution of Gladwell's work here is that he dispels notions that people are fixed in the life results that are heaped upon them by their economic condition, social status, or -- most significantly -- their cultural background.

Yes, Asians are better at math, but not for the reasons we typically suppose. And yes, New Yorkers make better air traffic controllers, but not because of common stereotypes. And yes, non-Asians can learn math just as well once we recognize and deal with the non-genetic reasons why work in rice paddies facilitates better math skills.

Gladwell's work has implications for education, cross-cultural communication, international business, and a host of others, and has powerful illustrations that are applicable to other contexts, as well.

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