The Outliers introduction tells the story of a small and isolated Pennsylvania town called Roseto in the late 1800s. Roseto was an outlier in terms of health—death rates in this small village, populated by immigrants from the same small town in Italy, were unusually low. Doctors and scientists looked tirelessly for an explanation. They thought there must be something about the diet, exercise routines, or environment of the Rosetans to explain their unusually good health, but all of these hypotheses led to dead ends. Finally Stewart Wolf, a physician, suggested that the very culture of Roseto—deeply communal, family oriented, friendly—kept these people healthy. Wolf had looked beyond the individual and found a solution. Gladwell concludes his introduction by saying, “in Outliers, I want to do for our understanding of success what Stewart Wolf did for our understanding of health.”
Gladwell’s introduction serves to illustrate two central facets of his overall argument: first, that the “understanding of success” he puts forward will be somewhat controversial. Like Wolf, his methodology will be largely different from culturally dominant methods of examining and defining success. Second, his argument will emphasize the collective: it will look “beyond the individual” in order to determine how success works and how successful outliers are made. The story of the Rosetans is not only an entertaining way to begin the book, but also a useful analogy when it comes to understanding his argument in broad strokes.