Malcolm Gladwell follows the fascinating sociology of The Tipping Point and Blink with Outliers (Little, Brown, $27.99). Defining “outliers” as people who do extraordinary things, Gladwell maintains that we consistently misunderstand the reasons for their achievements, reversing the relevant and the irrelevant in explanations for such phenomena as star soccer players or high-achieving Asian math students. How could Townsend Harris public high school in Manhattan, in forty years, produce three Nobel Prize winners, six Pulitzer Prize winners, and one Supreme Court Justice, as well as George Gershwin and Jonas Salk? A conventional mind might attribute the feat to high-quality teaching, but the true reasons lie outside the schoolyard. An Italian immigrant community in Pennsylvania boasts a death rate for heart disease that is half that of the rest of the United States. An ordinary doctor might compile information on diet, exercise, and genes, but a medical outlier discovered the real reason for this population’s health, and it was one not found in medical textbooks. Gladwell documents how conventional thinking can be corrected by looking beyond the seemingly obvious.
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