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 forced to form their own (often litigation-oriented) firms. This ended up giving Jewish firms a major advantage when corporate takeovers became common practice later in the 20th century. The tremendous success of many of New York’s most legendary lawyers stemmed from the disadvantage that religious discrimination had formerly imposed on them: a disadvantage became a huge advantage over time. Gladwell expands on this point throughout the book, examining ways that our cultural heritage can influence our attitudes towards race, religion, honor, work (and what constitutes “meaningful” work), money, and entitlement. Cultural forces even generations removed can determine success as much as timing, talent, hard work, and luck.
Privilege, Heritage, and Cultural Background ThemeTracker
Privilege, Heritage, and Cultural Background Quotes in Outliers
They had to look beyond the individual. They had to understand the culture he or she was a part of, who their friends and families were, and what town their families came from.
[Oppenheimer] possessed the kind of savvy that allowed him to get what he wanted from the world.
The sense of entitlement…is an attitude perfectly suited to succeeding in the modern world.
No one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone.
Since we know outliers always have help along the way, can we sort through the ecology of Joe Flom and identify the conditions that helped create him?
Is there a perfect time for a New York Jewish lawyer to be born? It turns out there is.
I realize that we are often wary of making these kinds of broad generalizations about different cultural groups—and with good reason. This is the form that racial and ethnic stereotypes take. We want to believe that we are not prisoners of our ethnic histories.
[The pilot’s] plane is moments from disaster. But he cannot escape the dynamic dictated to him by his culture in which subordinates must respect the dictates of their superiors.
Throughout history, not surprisingly, the people who grow rice have always worked harder than almost any other kind of farmer.
This idea—that effort must be balanced by rest—could not be more different from Asian notions about study and work, of course.
Schools work. The only problem with school, for the kids who aren’t achieving, is that there isn’t enough of it.
Her community does not give her what she needs. So what does she have to do? Give up her evenings and weekends and friends—all the elements of her old world—and replace them with KIPP
These were history’s gifts to my family—and if the resources of that grocer, the fruits of those riots, the possibilities of that culture, and the privileges of that skin tone had been extended to others, how many more would now live a life of fulfillment, in a beautiful house high on a hill?