“Outliers: The Story of Success”
by Malcolm Gladwell
Your college alumni letter came the other day. You read it, surprised and a little depressed.
A first-class slacker you graduated with is a multi-millionaire now. The Guy Most Likely to Succeed has done just that and more. And that cheerleader you dated? She’s parlayed her pom-poms into prosperity and she’s living large.
And you, well, you coulda been a contender, but the only Rocky you know has been your life since college. Although you’re not doing too badly, your classmates obviously did better. Were they born lucky or did their parents, “know somebody”? Find out the truth in the new book, “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell.
You know a star when you see one. It’s the athlete who makes the game look effortless; the businessperson who breezily turns junk into gold; the lawyer who’s top in your address book; the teacher you remember best. Gladwell calls those people “Outliers.” They lie outside — and above — the norm.
And, they are successful. But why?
Gladwell says that in order to understand highly successful people, you need to look at where they’re from ancestrally, culturally and geographically. Mix in innate ability, seizable opportunity and plain old luck and you can predict who will succeed.
In Canada, for instance, Gladwell says that an overwhelming majority of elite hockey players were born in the first three months of the year. The months themselves aren’t the key; the best players are best because youth team age bracketing runs from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. Pucksters born early have a several month advantage over their smaller, younger teammates.
Birth year can play a part in success, too. Gladwell says it’s no coincidence that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and other computer giants were born in the middle 1950s, just like it’s no coincidence that some of today’s most respected law firms were started by men who were born in the mid-1930s.
But success isn’t just a matter of birth. Researchers say that it takes an average 10,000 hours of practice to become the best at any task. Seizing opportunity definitely helps. If your parents were born to a hard-working culture, that’ll give you a leg up. Somehow, getting entire organizations to change their schedules would be beneficial. But brains? Great, if you’ve got ‘em, but high intelligence isn’t at the top of success-making lists. Practical intelligence is much more desirable.
“Outliers” is, for the most part, a lively and fascinating trip through the making of a success. Taking readers from Canada to Europe, Jamaica (where Gladwell himself caught a lucky ancestral break) and Wall Street, Gladwell is gleeful in revealing his findings. Although he sometimes rambles before he explains himself, what you’ll learn is layered so that it’s not overwhelming.
The only problem I see with this book is that it’s going to tell you how to spot success, but you won’t learn how to get it. Still, Gladwell’s latest is one of those business books that doubles as fun, making “Outliers” a book to stay in with this winter.
“Michelle: A Biography”
by Liza Mundy
They say that behind every great man is a woman who’s willing to give him a goose in the posterior when he needs it most.
Marc Antony had his Cleopatra. Henry VIII had his Catherine, Kathryn, Katherine, two Annes and a Jane. Harry Turman would have been lost without Bess. Martin Luther King had his Coretta.
And Barack has his Michelle.
By now, we know a lot about our future leader, but what do we know about the woman behind the office? You’ll find out when you read “Michelle,” by Liza Mundy.
To truly know Michelle Robinson Obama, says Mundy, you need to understand where she came from. Born in a then-segregated area on the South Side of Chicago in 1964, Michelle Robinson was the second child of parents who raised her to be independent and strong-minded.
As a teen, Michelle Robinson attended a magnet school with other high-achievers, including the daughter of Jesse Jackson, Sr. Because the Robinsons encouraged their children to get the best education, Michelle chose Princeton, then went to Harvard and set her sights on becoming a lawyer.
Michelle’s family claims that she was always hard on her suitors. When she brought Barack Obama home for the first time, her brother Craig said, “I was thinking, ‘Nice guy. Too bad he won’t last.’ ” But last Obama did. They were married in 1992.
Friends and former colleagues say it was obvious that Obama was meant for a political career; in fact, he told several people that he aspired to high office. His new wife was an asset to that goal, because she introduced him to people who would further his career politically. Conversely, he helped her find jobs that made a difference in their neighborhood.
So, what can we look forward to when the new presidential family moves into the White House? Mundy says that Michelle Obama has vowed to help families. She loves children and has always strived to make her life meaningful. Breaking down self-segregation is important to her, as is bringing people together.
Reading “Michelle” is a mixed bag. There’s an awful lot in here that you already know and a lot you probably won’t care about.
The author admits that she wrote this book without the help of Obama’s political team (who discouraged close friends from talking), and without access to Michelle Obama. She eventually found a few people who would talk, but based on her vast notes, much of this book was put together from magazines, newspapers and other articles written about the future first lady.
On the other hand, there are enough “Aha!” nuggets in this book to keep your interest and to keep you turning pages. The interviews seem fresh. Some of the stories aren’t overly familiar. And this book seems to dig a little deeper than you’d get in a fluff-piece magazine article.
If you’ve followed politics for the last 12 months, but need to know more about the president-elect’s family, this is a decent place to start. “Michelle” is a good book to get behind.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.