Book Review: Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell takes you an intellectual journey through awe-striking, sometimes heartbreaking stories and shows us why the outliers are not the product of the personal merit we often think or society want to portray.

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Shortly after reading Outliers, I realised what a monumental misconception I had about this book.

I knew this was one of the most frequently recommended non-fiction books.

You likely have heard of it too.

The most quoted part of the book I came across time and time again was: in order to become a world-class expert, we need to put in 10,000 hours’ practice.

So, I had concluded: with what appears to be a core message quoted everywhere, why do I bother?

I felt I already knew everything I needed to know: it must be about those successful people we read about everywhere.

What’s new, right?

Now that I’ve finished this enlightening book, it’s almost frightening to learn how ignorant I can be by my own preconception.

If you’re inclined to think the way I did about Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, perish the thought now.

Get hold of the book and be ready to be enlightened in a fascinating and intelligent way.

Why did I Decide to Read the Book Then?

So, with such an ill-informed view on the book, you might wonder how I ended up reading it.

First, I didn’t know who Malcolm Gladwell was, but I’m a big fan of the Joe Rogan podcast.

That’s where I came across an interview with Malcolm Gladwell.

(I have a YouTube clip on the bottom of the post for you!)

He was promoting the latest book, Talking To Strangers.

I found him articulate (a big thing for me!), interesting and intelligent, all of which compelled me to borrow Outliers from the library (Libby app) on a whim.

Ended up finishing it in 2.5 days.

I’ve since watched his other interviews, listening to his podcast, Revisionist History and currently reading his other book, Blink.

I’m also in the waiting list of my local library for his other books, Talking To Strangers, The Tipping Point and David and Goliah.

Yep, I’m hooked!

What’s Outlier about?

I was partially right in that it was about Outliers: those exceedingly successful people we’ve all heard about.

But not in the way I thought it would be.

If you’re thinking about practical aspects of achieving success (as often is the case with books in self-help genre) that keeps these outliers on a pedestal, it’s worthwhile to note that Outliers is classified under ‘Business Decision-Making / Social Psychology & Interactions / Personal Success in Business on Amazon.

Meaning it’s not about practical guide to success, habits, morning rituals, listicles of how-to, etc.

Below is directly from the last chapter in the book that summarises what this book is about.

The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all

Connecting Dots and Discovering New Insights

You’ll probably glean some idea about the book from my highlights and notes below, but I encourage you to read the book.

You’ll truly appreciate the journey the author takes you.

It’s amazing how many dots he draws, connects them in front of our very own eyes and lets us see things differently.

Beginning a new chapter in the middle of the book, I was almost giddy with anticipation and excitement:

Where is this going?

You’ll read stories after stories – sometimes awe-striking, sometimes heartbreaking – which are to illustrate the core message that the outliers are not the product of the personal merit we often think or society want to portray but the product of essentially being born at the right place and at the right time.

Incidentally, if you’re interested in psychology, which I think probably includes everyone in the personal development realm, you’ll enjoy this book (and I presume all his other books).

(I’ve also learned something I always suspected about myself but couldn’t put a finger on – I’ll blog about it some other time.)

Below are my highlights and notes from the book but I can’t emphasise enough, unlike some other books, if you really want to enjoy the full benefits of an intellectual journey this book presents you with, I wholeheartedly recommend you read the book.

Money Habit Muse 5 Star

Highlights from The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

(Credit: Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell)

Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing that makes you good.


We’re too much in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail. And, most of all, we become much too passive. We overlook just how large a role we all play – by “we” I mean society in determining who makes it and who doesn’t.


… we cling to the idea that success is a simple function of individual merit and that the world in which we all grow up and the rules we choose to write as a society don’t matter at all.


… the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.


… what truly distinguishes their histories is not their extraordinary talent but their extraordinary opportunities.


We pretend that success is exclusively a matter of individual merit.


Their success was not just of their own making. It was a product of the world in which they grew up.


The sense of possibility so necesary for success comes not just from inside us or from our parents. It comes from our time: from the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with.


Those thress things – autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and rewards – are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.


Work that fulfils those three criteria is meaningful.


Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.


Cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives. They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behaviour that we cannot make sense of our world without them.


Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.

(Credit: Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell)

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