Malcolm Gladwell’s primary objective in Outliers is to examine achievement and failure as cultural phenomena in order to determine the factors that typically foster success. His main argument—that success results from a complicated mix of factors, requires taking a closer look at why certain people, and even entire groups of people, thrive while others fail.
Gladwell builds his argument on close examinations of typical “success stories,” in which a “self-made” man or woman overcomes great…(read full theme analysis)
Gladwell is keenly interested in investigating the complex and often misunderstood relationships among individual talent, hard work, opportunity, and luck in creating “outliers,” like star athletes, highly successful entrepreneurs, and famous academics. Gladwell endeavors to show that individual talent is necessary but not sufficient to achieve success. The surrounding context of available opportunity is also crucial. For example, Bill Gates would never have been so successful without his unusually frequent exposure to computing technology in…(read full theme analysis)
One of the most complex and subtle thematic elements of Gladwell’s argument concerns the idea of privilege, and the crucial role that cultural heritage plays in determining success. Cultural heritage can be an advantage or a disadvantage, and sometimes it can be both at once. For example, the rise of Jewish-run law-firms in New York City in the early 20th century had much to do with the fact that Jews were discriminated against, and…(read full theme analysis)
Throughout Outliers, in addition to exploring the factors that determine success, Gladwell demonstrates how an improved understanding of success could have a dramatic impact on some of the most crucial facets of contemporary society, such as business, athletics, economics and education. Gladwell attributes several major societal problems, such as low graduation rates in inner-city schools, to a failure to understand success. For example, Gladwell posits that educational outcomes in inner city schools could be…(read full theme analysis)