Gladwell's New Book: Outliers


Malcolm Gladwell has a new book out: Outliers. I was a huge fan of The Tipping Point, which I thought was about the most interesting book I’d read in years. His next book, Blink, was uneven: it had some good stories in it but it didn’t hang together in the way that Tipping Point did. When I heard recently about Outliers I was wondering whether Gladwell would be able to recapture the magic of his first book, or whether it would continue the downward trajectory of second.

I haven’t got my hands on Outliers yet (it comes out today), but NY Times has put up a review of it. Unfortunately it sounds like my fears might be confirmed. Here’s how it starts:

Malcolm Gladwell’s two humongous best sellers, “The Tipping Point” and “Blink,” share a shake-and-bake recipe that helps explain their popularity. Both popularize scientific, sociological and psychological theories in a fashion that makes for lively water-cooler chatter about Big Intriguing Concepts: “The Tipping Point” promotes the notion that ideas and fads spread in much the same way as infectious diseases do, while “Blink” theorizes that gut instincts and snap judgments can be every bit as good as decisions made more methodically. Both books are filled with colorful anecdotes and case studies that read like entertaining little stories. Both use PowerPoint-type catchphrases (like the “stickiness factor” and “the Rule of 150”) to plant concepts in the reader’s mind. And both project a sort of self-help chirpiness, which implies that they are giving the reader useful new insights into the workings of everyday life.

“Outliers,” Mr. Gladwell’s latest book, employs this same recipe, but does so in such a clumsy manner that it italicizes the weaknesses of his methodology. The book, which purports to explain the real reason some people — like Bill Gates and the Beatles — are successful, is peppy, brightly written and provocative in a buzzy sort of way. It is also glib, poorly reasoned and thoroughly unconvincing.

Oh dear. But I’ll probably get it anyway… Sort of like the new James Bond movie, a Gladwell book has become something you take in as much out of duty as anything else. Outliers is sure to have its moment in the sun of the “bizeratti”, so you have to know about it whether it’s any good or not.