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Recommended Reading

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

One to read just for the pure enjoyment of it.

This book tells a series of stories about success that is achieved consciously and unconsciously by individuals, communities, companies and even whole societies across the world. In doing so, it uncovers a host of insights about the circumstances that played a part in creating very different forms and measures of success in a variety of different contexts and for all sorts of people: from household names to others that have remained below the public radar.

The thread that joins these diverse stories is Mr Gladwell's deep curiosity about success: why it occurs and what might be the corresponding causes and effects. Perhaps what makes this book so compelling is the scope of Mr Gladwell's enquiry - he looks far beyond the obvious causes to discover unexpected correlations that are supported by data and offer highly plausible explanations for why, for example, societies with a rice-based agricultural economies are better at maths that those with a tradition of wheat cultivation!

In the first half of his book, Mr Gladwell develops the argument that success can be partially understood by the gradual accumulation of advantages over time: starting with when and where we are each born and the circumstances of our upbringing. All of which may sound fairly obvious until Mr Gladwell actually develops the idea that there are, for example, demonstrably optimal dates for a nineteenth century business tycoon, or a twentieth century software tycoon or indeed for a Jewish New York lawyer to have been born. By extending his scope to examine how demographic trends might have influenced access to education, or to look at the timing of different industries' deregulation and how this correlates with the cumulative work experience and hence preparedness to benefit from such changes of people born at different times, the author uncovers some fascinating yet common-sense insights into success. 

The second half of the book continues in a similar vein, delving into different cultural legacies to understand if and how these contribute to or hinder success in different contexts from mathematics to aviation and academia.

Once again, the scope of enquiry is vast and illuminating and all leads to the conclusion that outliers - the people, teams, businesses, communities or societies that have achieved something well outside the norm, owe their success not to inexplicable brilliance, but to a complex web of circumstances, influences and inheritances, many of which were completely outside their control.  

Be warned: if you haven't read this book already, or perhaps more importantly if your friends haven't, you will likely recount some of the stories in it endlessly for several months afterwards!

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