Outliers

Can I just say that I have been BUSTING through books this summer. This is a record for me. I hated reading for 8 years straight, and this summer has been like a literary rebirth for me. I’m so into reading that I may re-read Harry freaking Potter and try to like it. Or something. I’m not making any promises, though.

Anyway, so I’ve been reading a lot on BART. It’s rather soothing, it’s taming the motion sickness I get in the car if I read there, and it makes the time pass really quickly. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, then, was an especially pleasurable experience on BART because Gladwell has this incredibly transparent writing style. It’s so good that you don’t even notice you’re reading. Granted, he has very little flair, no descriptive adjectives, nothing like that. His book doesn’t need that, anyway. It’s nonfiction and report-based. So I was getting really into the book, especially because the first half was inspirational. My dad bought me the book for graduation, and I think that’s what he intended my reaction to be. Gladwell talks about how really successful people don’t do it alone — and how even smart (not genius) people can be incredibly successful if they take advantage of the opportunities thrown at them, even coming down to race, age, morales, that sort of thing. I won’t get into it, because it’s so clear when he explains it.

And then I hit this awful chapter. He talked about a Jewish lawyer who had been born at just the wrong time, right before the right time for Jewish lawyers to grown up, handle acquisition cases because the big time-lawyers wouldn’t handle them, become experts in this law, and then experience a shift in law practice where acquisition became the most popular case — and get rich due to their expertise. He also talked about how this guy had graduated DURING THE DEPRESSION. LIKE, WHEN IT WAS PEAKING. And he was a smart guy, a law school graduate. He never made anything of himself, though — his son did, thankfully. My immediate thought was: I AM FUCKED. According to Malcolm Gladwell, our generation is completely fucked and we’ll never be able to recover from it, even if we’re all a bunch of geniuses. I’m smart, I went to a great high school, an even greater university, but I was born in 1987 and now it’s a recession. That was going to happen either way. It just sucks. He was prophesying, and I freaked out. A lot.

I realized later, after a conversation with a smart friend of mine, that of course his writing depends on a lot of drastic, specific, hand-selected examples that, when assembled in a book, look like they form a pattern. So he drew up all the information he needed to make his point. Of course he did, he’s a writer. But still. It’s freaky shit. His book may also make you want to never take a plane again, and it may make you question your intelligence. I wondered if he wasn’t just bitching out loud, but I suppose a successful man writing about success doesn’t have anything to bitch about in particular. Maybe he was bitter about his friends? Maybe he wasn’t as smart as the others he was describing? Who knows. All I know is that I still want to read The Tipping Point, even if it’ll scare me. I still don’t understand what a self-fulfilling prophecy is, even though he explained it clearly in the book. And I don’t know if I’m practical or analytical. It’s really hard to tell. I shouldn’t even care. But Malcolm Gladwell has a way with words that makes you care about a lot. Of stuff.

Also, the term self-fulfilling prophecy.

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One comment

  1. amritaraja · July 27, 2009

    I agree, Gladwell has a very accessible writing style. However, after a while I felt that his tone was a bit – not quite preacherly, but – slightly condescending. Like the reader was too stupid to get his point unless he really hammered it in, and did so by summarizing the previous chapter at the beginning of the next and smattering about some scholarly vocabulary to prove he had a degree…

    As for the hardships supposedly in store for our generation – yes, we’re going to have it tough. Other studies have shown that graduates who begin their careers in a recession never make as much money over their careers as do those who start in a time of prosperity. But money isn’t everything; Gladwell unfortunately seems to equate monetary success with living a successful (and meaningful) life. Who’s to say the Jewish lawyer wasn’t happy with the way his life turned out, and that he had made other meaningful decisions, had lasting influences on other lives?

    And hey – if you’re really worried, I guess you could go to grad school, and hope that when you get out of *there*, the economy will be on the upswing again, putting you back in favor. I know I am πŸ™‚

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