Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Outliers

I remember when I was young going to live music gigs and coming home feeling like the luckiest girl alive if I managed to get hold of the musicians' set list. There are some writers who inspire this feeling in me. I see their name on the cover of a magazine or book or in a table of contents and I feel my heart change gear. Malcolm Gladwell is one such writer.

I try to read everything he writes in the New Yorker, I read his first book The Tipping Point and I have just finished reading his third, Outliers. I listened to his second book, Blink as an audio book and ever since, I hear his voice in my head saying his words as I read them. He has a really great voice, really great hair, and a really great explanation of what an outlier is:
"Outlier" is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, in Paris, we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be an outlier. And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold. In this book I'm interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August. My wish with Outliers is that it makes us understand how much of a group project success is. When outliers become outliers it is not just because of their own efforts. It's because of the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances— and that means that we, as a society, have more control about who succeeds—and how many of us succeed—than we think. That's an amazingly hopeful and uplifting idea.
I find all of Gladwell's ideas uplifting. And I found this book uplifting too – I just couldn't put it down.

Even though he has a penchant for the macabre – suicide, police shootings, plane crashes – his curious explorations are filled with much humour and joy. And as I've learned of late, a love of life must be preceded by a love of death. Well, maybe not a love of it, but a genuine acceptance.

The final chapter of the book is about his grandmother and mother and the circumstances that helped shape them into who they were, and then him into who he is; an honouring of the matriarchy that has great resonance with me right now.

1 comment:

incognito said...

Thanks Meg! Your post is great with the personal touch making it so much more refreshing than the regular reviews(I plead guilty as well)..