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See you in 2011!!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Outliers’ discussion about success is fascinating—but too narrow . . .

As those of you who are regular readers of this blog and FEAST the eZine know, I generally write only about books I can enthusiastically recommend. OUTLIERS: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown 2008) breaks that rule to some degree. Yes, I liked it. In fact, I found it fascinating to read the data about interconnected and chance factors that have played into major success stories of our time. Gladwell has an entertaining style that uses stories to illustrate results of studies on his topics, and I applaud that approach because we all like stories better than numbers or dreary statistics. HOWEVER, sadly, Gladwell misses the boat in my view by completely ignoring the role of gender in his story of success. For the most part, this book is all about successful WHITE MEN, about studies that show the sometimes hidden keys to their achievements in arenas where many have the basic potential, but only a few hit the high notes.

BUT WHERE ARE THE WOMEN? That there is an extra layer of challenges for women to achieve the highest financial and career successes is without doubt. Have there been no studies about this that could have been included? Were all the studies done about men only? It would appear so in Gladwell’s book. The only nod to successful women in this volume is not really on a par with those offered for men. The last chapter of the book is the story of his own family’s women, his grandmother and his mother in particular. But it is an homage—and a well-deserved one from the sound of it—but their successes do not compare with the male geniuses and top earners of sports, science, and industry with which Gladwell makes his earlier points. He tries to tie it in, but it just doesn’t work. Where is the story of an Oprah, a Maya Angelou, a Sandra Day O’Connor, a Nancy Pelosi, a Coco Chanel? Perhaps that’s a whole other book since the key factors include challenges unique to their gender.

This is still a good read, with plenty of food for thought on the often perplexing questions about why this person becomes a phenomenal success and a seemingly similarly capable person does not. But, come on, Malcolm—look beyond your own box!

-- Rosemary Carstens


Jerrie Hurd said...

I'm also reading this book. He writes well with an engaging style that almost makes you forget to stop and consider things like--where are the women?
Even more disturbing is the fact that he pretty much debunks the idea that "if you work hard, success will follow." You have to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right experience. Makes you think!!!

Anonymous said...

What Gladwell does in excluding women is common, and that he must "try" to include women is telling. Whenever I browse collections of essays, for example, I scan the author list to see if women and minorities are included in a way that doesn't smack of tokenism, and I get pissy when I find the names of very few women.

I like Gladwell's writing, enjoyed The Tipping Point, but won't read this one, not just because he excludes women but also because he takes a typically male view of the world and, from the description of this book, a narrow view of "success."

Thanks for this review, Rosemary. As I get older, I am more selective of the books I choose to read: you know, "so many books, so little time."

Donna D said...

Rosemary, have you just discovered an idea for a new book that you can write? :-)

Anonymous said...

The puritan idea, "work hard and success will follow" rarely applies. It's good that someone points out the reality of luck, timing, and who you know as a factors in success.

Andrea Meyer said...

Despite the role that luck plays, Gladwell does write about the 10,000-hour rule -- that those at the top of their fields have inevitably spent 10,000 practicing and honing their craft, be they musicians, fiction writers or computer programmers.

ClaireWalter said...

Madame Curie? First internationally known, highly regarded and greatly honored female scientist -- or did he only write about American movers and shakers?

Anonymous said...

Does it read more like a documentary or a "how-to"? From what you all say, I'm not sure I want to invest the time...should I?


Anonymous said...

Well said, Rosemary! "Where is the women" is a question that, after decades of feminism, still needs to be asked. I do like his emphasis, though, on the long reach of people's habits--even down through generations of a culture. Eye-catching blog!

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?