by Malcolm Gladwell, 2008, audio book narrated by the author, Hatchett Audio, New York
The author’s premise is that success comes not only from one’s native abilities, but also from circumstances and opportunities that are present that are not available to others. To support this premise, Gladwell examines certain extremely successful individuals’ lives to uncover the circumstances that were present in their formative stages. He also examines one individual with an extremely high IQ who did have have access to those favorable circumstances to prove that the absence of such circumstances leads to failure to capitalize on inborn talents. This particular individual has an IQ of almost 200 but has never developed the social skills necessary to utilize his amazing mind effectively.
The book is very well researched and the author uses his data effectively to prove his premise. I found myself wondering, however, if there are “outliers” who have achieved extraordinary results without some of the advantages that Gladwell illustrates. He mentions Einstein once in the book but does not examine his life as one of his examples. Not having enough knowledge of Einstien’s life myself, I was wondering if Einstein’s life might prove an exception to his theory; maybe Einstein achieved what he did in spite of a lack of opportunity. Ditto for the life of Abraham Lincoln.
While a case can be made that circumstances are always present that add to an extraordinary achivement (Einstein would not have developed the theory of relativity if he had been born in the thirteenth century and Abraham Lincoln would not have saved the union and freed the slaves if he had not been born when he was), a good example of an exception would pretty much destroy Gladwell’s theory. I think I will check out some other highly successful individuals’ lives to see if I can find the kind of circumstances that Gladwell cites in each and every case. If not, then maybe the theory has some holes in it.
In any event, the book has some thought-provoking ideas. It certainly does call into question the American ideal that one only needs to work hard and apply the gifts we were born with to achieve success.