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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Intelligent And Revealing

"The harder I work, the luckier I get" - Mark Twain

I wonder why Malcolm Gladwell did not use those pithy words as the epigraph for his 2008 bestseller "Outliers"? Or at minimum, to open his chapter called "The 10,000 Hour Rule"? Twain's aphorism has always had the ring of truth for me. And Gladwell's examples of outliers who have assiduously applied that 10,000 hour rule, from Mozart to Bill Gates to the Beatles, further fortify Twain's words for me.

Having never had much use for the over-used "genius", I also appreciated how Gladwell deconstructs that hoary cliche. He doesn't deny the role of innate talent but his persuasive research makes a nuanced case for the other factors contributing to success.

But what I've most liked about Gladwell's books is how he doesn't hide from topics he covers. For example, the essay "Something Borrowed" from "What The Dogs Saw" (2009) is about confronting the probability that all writers (including Gladwell), sometimes unknowingly borrow from other writers. He asks - Should a charge of plagiarism ruin your life? Here, in section two of "Outliers" (entitled "Legacy"), he skillfully yet courageously teases out the way cultural norms impact success. In less skilled or polemic hands, this could have easily deteriorated into stereotyping. Gladwell not only avoids that, in the epilogue he uses his own family history to support his convincing premise. In my experience, except for memoirs, non-fiction this intelligent and revealing is hard to come by.  Your experience?      

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