Monday, September 5, 2011

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of Success

Malcolm Gladwell is a cerebral and jaunty writer, with an unusual gift for making the complex seem simple and for seeking common-sense explanations for many of the apparent mysteries, coincidences and problems of the everyday. He is also an intellectual opportunist, always on the look-out for a smart phrase or new fad with which to define and explain different social phenomena.
In his first book, The Tipping Point, he studied events such as crime waves and fashion trends and settled on an arresting metaphor to explain why they happen. 'Ideas and products and messages and behaviours spread just like viruses,' he wrote, suggesting that we contaminate and infect one another with preferences and recommendations, until we reach a 'tipping point', after which a social epidemic becomes contagious and crosses a threshold to reach saturation point. The tipping point: who does not now use this phrase to describe a moment of definitive transition? ('Tipping point' seems to have become this generation's 'paradigm shift', a phrase popularised by Thomas Kuhn in his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
The success of the book, which began as an article in the New Yorker, the magazine for which he works as a staff writer, propelled Gladwell into the realm of super-consultancy. He has since become a lauded pontificant and ideas progenitor on the international lecture circuit. He is the go-to man for a corporate business elite seeking to understand the way we live, think and consume today.
It helps that with his wild, unruly curls and wide-eyed gaze, Gladwell has the look of an ├╝bergeek. He seems to have absorbed one important lesson of the consumerist culture he deconstructs - that the image you project is paramount; in effect, he has made himself, superficially at least, into a brand. If you didn't know he was a writer and journalist, you wouldn't be surprised to hear that he was a leading operator at Microsoft or Google. As it is, he's a kind of literary Bill Gates, a guy so far ahead of the rest of the pack that you never quite know what he will do next.
What is an outlier? The word may not be a neologism but I have never heard anyone use it in conversation. According to one dictionary definition, an outlier is 'something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body'. But Gladwell uses the word with more metaphorical flexibility. For him, an outlier is a truly exceptional individual who, in his or her field of expertise, is so superior that he defines his own category of success. Bill Gates is an outlier and so are Steve Jobs of Apple, Robert Oppenheimer and many others Gladwell speaks to or writes about as he seeks to offer a more complete understanding of success.
The trouble with the book is that Gladwell is ultimately engaged in a long argument with nobody but himself. Throughout, he defines his position against a floating, ubiquitous, omnipotent 'we'; a Greek chorus of predictable opposition and received opinion. 'There is something profoundly wrong with the way we look at success,' he writes. 'We cling to the idea that success is a simple function of individual merit and that the world in which we grow up and the rules we choose to write as a society don't matter at all.' And so he goes on.
These assumptions can be irritating, since who is this naive, unquestioning, plural intelligence identified as 'we'? Do we in wider society really believe that outstanding success, in whichever field, is achieved without extraordinary dedication, talent and fortuitous circumstance, as Gladwell would have it? Do we really take no account of the sociopolitical context into which someone was born and through which they emerged when we attempt to quantify outlandish achievement? Do we really believe that genius is simply born rather than formed? Gladwell wants his readers to take away from this book 'the idea that the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are'. But I don't know anyone who would dispute this.
The world for Gladwell is a text that he reads as closely as he can in seeking to decode and interpret it. He is adept at identifying underlying trends from which he extrapolates to form hypotheses, presenting them as if they were general laws of social behaviour. But his work has little philosophical rigour. He's not an epistemologist; his interest is in what we think, rather than in the how and why of knowledge itself.
There is also a certain one-dimensional Americanness at work: many of his examples and case studies are American and he spends rather too much time in New York, at one point even riffing at length about the founder of the literary agency that represents him. The book would have been more interesting if he'd roamed wider and travelled more, if it had been more internationalist in ambition and outlook.
However, it's still fun to follow Gladwell on his meandering intellectual journeys, even if the conclusions he arrives at here are so obviously self-evident as to be banal. Even when he is not at his best he is worth taking seriously. He has a lucid, aphoristic style. His case studies are well chosen, such as when he writes about the birth dates of elite ice hockey players and discovers a pattern: most are born in the first three months of the year. His range is wide, and he writes as well in Outliers about sport as he does about corporate law firms in New York or aviation. Little is beneath his notice.
One last thing, as Gladwell might say. There's perhaps another way of reading Outliers and that's as a quest for self-understanding, since the author himself is obviously an outlier. In seeking to find out more about how other people like him came to be who they are and to occupy the exalted positions they do, he's also indirectly seeking to learn more about himself, about how he came to be who he is: the smartest guy at the New Yorker, with the big ideas and the lucrative book deals.
• Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. His book The Last Game: Love, Death and Football will be published in April 2009.


Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health by Gene Stone, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr.

Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health

I'm holding off on rating this book until I try some recipes.

This book advocates a plant-based diet and supplements the documentary by the same name (which I have not seen). From glancing over the recipes I have to say that they look promising for those interested in trying some vegan recipes in that they call for wholesome, real food and contain unprocessed and minimally-processed ingredients. Thankfully, there are no calls for 1/2 cup vegan cheese, 1 slice fake soy meat, tvp, etc. It should be noted that they consider olive oil a highly-processed food and don't call for it in most recipes, whereas I always make liberal use of olive oil in my cooking so it'll be interesting when I start giving a few of these a try



Sunday, September 4, 2011

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts

A MUST read for anyone who wants better relationships

*Improves relationships
*Easy to read... Flows really well
Cons: Not everyone has read this book!!

This book is written for couples but  ANYONE can read The 5 Love Languages and this and gain perspective into improving relationships.

 I'm not married, not currently dating but this book has helped me to improve relationships with friends, my family, coworkers and more!

This book opens your mind up to how people respond to  things differently. While your language of love might be recieving gifts and you feel most loved when someone gives you a gift, another person might feel most loved when someone helps them with a task.

Revieving Gifts
Physical Contact
Quality Time
Help with something

By being able to identify your language and realizing the need to learn to speak the language of those who matter most to us we are opening ourselves up to stronger relationships.

Should be required pre-marital reading. If you know of a couple getting married add a copy to your shower gift.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby (Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations)

The Great Gatsby is your neighbor you're best friends with until you find out he's a drug dealer. It charms you with some of the most elegant English prose ever published, making it difficult to discuss the novel without the urge to stammer awestruck about its beauty. It would be evidence enough to argue that F. Scott Fitzgerald was superhuman, if it wasn't for the fact that we know he also wrote This Side of Paradise.

But despite its magic, the rhetoric is just that, and it is a cruel facade. Behind the stunning glitter lies a story with all the discontent and intensity of the early Metallica albums. At its heart, The Great Gatsby throws the very nature of our desires into a harsh, shocking light. There may never be a character who so epitomizes tragically misplaced devotion as Jay Gatsby, and Daisy, his devotee, plays her part with perfect, innocent malevolence. Gatsby's competition, Tom Buchanan, stands aside watching, taunting and provoking with piercing vocal jabs and the constant boast of his enviable physique. The three jostle for position in an epic love triangle that lays waste to countless innocent victims, as well as both Eggs of Long Island. Every jab, hook, and uppercut is relayed by the instantly likable narrator Nick Carraway, seemingly the only voice of reason amongst all the chaos. But when those boats are finally borne back ceaselessly by the current, no one is left afloat. It is an ethical massacre, and Fitzgerald spares no lives; there is perhaps not a single character of any significance worthy even of a Sportsmanship Award from the Boys and Girls Club.

In a word, The Great Gatsby is about deception; Fitzgerald tints our glasses rosy with gorgeous prose and a narrator you want so much to trust, but leaves the lenses just translucent enough for us to see that Gatsby is getting the same treatment. And if Gatsby represents the truth of the American Dream, it means trouble for us all. Consider it the most pleasant insult you'll ever receive


Monday, August 29, 2011

Night (Oprah's Book Club) by Elie Wiesel, Marion Wiesel

Night (Oprah's Book Club)

NIGHT by Elie Wiesel is a piercing account of the horrors of concentration camp, which impressed an incredible toll both internally and externally on his being. As a young adolescent, he is ripped from his home, plummeted to the depths of suffering, and driven to the edge of his own humanity. Mr. Wiesel openly shares with readers the tremendous weight of these experiences etched within his soul. His courage in doing so should be lauded.
From Mr. Wiesel we can learn that regardless of the burden from the sins of others imposed upon us and our own sins, it is possible to endure - and even to help others do so.
In that vein, I would recommend another memoir to readers of NIGHT - called A BEAUTIFUL WORLD, written by Gregg Milligan. It is a book you will not be able to put down - a deeply moving account of the indomitable human spirit as seen in the heart of a young child subjected to severe physical, mental and sexual abuse.

In the author's own words, he shares his story to help others 'buckle down and bear the ride' through their own hell - and know that they are not alone. A BEAUTIFUL WORLD is an incredible testament to the perseverance of hope. Exquisitely written and heart wrenching, it is an unforgettable story.
Both A BEAUTIFUL WORLD and NIGHT offer readers a chance to adjust their own perspective on suffering through the examples of both authors. Though they have suffered greatly and will never leave this experience behind, they will not allow it to end them either.
Further, both authors possess the incredible courage to reach out and share their stories, giving of themselves for the benefit of others. The astounding resiliency shown in that act alone speaks volumes of them as human beings -- and the words they press to paper will ever live on in the hearts of those that read them.