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Gladwell’s Outliers

December 29, 2008

I’m a fan.  I admire Gladwell’s reader-friendly structure and prose, his style. I am intrigued by his unusual take on things that are both below the surface of what is (allowed to be) conscious and yet are common sense, once you’ve read the narratives and the research references and explanations. So I enjoyed reading Outliers, just as I was delighted by Blink and Tipping Point. Gladwell is a communicator who makes me think.

I especially like Outliers because it is so Canadian – it is Gladwell’s explanation of his own success, a statement that is both humble and proud. It is typically Canadian to be reticent in an obvious way, expecting others to make the connections. Gladwell started Outliers, his book about success, with a Canadian hockey story, included the impact of culture, and ended with his grandmother’s success, (which is part of the web that allowed his). All books are ultimately about their author’s and this one shows both that Gladwell knows he has done well, but he is clear that he also knows how lucky he has been in his timing and his community. He knows and demonstrates that community, culture, is the foundation for success – more than/ instead of – rugged individualism.

I have read some criticism of Gladwell’s success, much of it saying he’s not smart enough, his books are too “thin”. What I see is a wise educator, someone who understands the power of narrative as a base to set information in so readers will be able to recall it. I like popularists; I see them as educators and change-agents.

I also find Gladwell’s prose exceptionally easy to follow. People who structure easy-to-follow ideas and information are not asking their readers to do the author’s work.  Authors who write easy-to-read sentences are skilled rhetoricians who understand their audiences. Many people appear to believe that “difficult-to-read” equals “deep”; I don’t. I admire Gladwell’s ability to compose material and write well.

I recommend Gladwell’s books, Outliers, Blink, and The Tipping Point.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Virginia Yonkers permalink
    January 8, 2009 12:55 pm

    I’m sure you have the same problem, but often it is hard to break my students of “academic speak”. When I suggest that they use a simpler word or sentence structure, their response is usually, “But I want to sound smart.”

    Anyone that can create the type of discussions that Gladwell’s have created can’t be too “dumb”!

  2. January 8, 2009 3:21 pm

    Hi Virginia,
    I agree that teaching students to write clearly can be swimming upstream against the patterns they’re used to. And I like Gladwell because he gets people thinking and discussing, too.

Trackbacks

  1. Another book on success (Gladwell’s) « The Hannibal Blog

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