A couple of best-selling books (The Tipping Point, Blink) and a forest's worth of must-read New Yorker articles into his career, Malcolm Gladwell has turned himself into the literary world's Mr. Wizard. Expertly versed in not only science but business and psychology, Gladwell is a poufy-haired showman with a knack for explaining anything to everybody, from dog whispering and fads to disposable diapers and snap judgments. His books in particular written in a noticeably more populist, teacherly voice than his New Yorker articles are rigged to blow open the heads of even the dimmest of general readers. And his latest, the explosively entertaining Outliers, might be his best and most useful work yet.
Its subject is success an ''outlier'' is a superachiever, like Bill Gates or the four Beatles, and Gladwell wants to know what sets these titans apart. It's not mere talent, he insists, offering up instead one thrilling, exquisitely unfurled counterargument after another. If it doesn't matter when you were born, Gladwell wonders, then how come so many Canadian pro hockey players have January birthdays, or so many Silicon Valley billionaires (like Gates) came into the world around 1955? Or, if you take two random men with superhuman IQs, how come the one named Robert Oppenheimer ended up a world-changing scientist, and the other guy, Chris Langan, probably topped out in life as a contestant on Bob Saget's quiz show, 1 vs. 100? And could there be something about Asia that makes Asians so good at math?
With a magician's gift for the Big Reveal, Gladwell always tells stories to make his points, and every single one of them in Outliers is a plateful of brain food that tastes like salty peanuts. In his books, unlike his articles, he occasionally lectures and sums up a bit too much, but it hardly matters. There are both brilliant yarns and life lessons here: Outliers is riveting science, self-help, and entertainment, all in one book. A