January 25, 2009

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (Review)

Posted in Nonfiction, Review tagged , , , , , , , at 1:13 pm by Laura

Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent work of popular nonfiction explores common beliefs of conventional wisdom: Some people are just born to be successful. Superior intelligence and hard work will lead to success. He delves into the surprising reasons behind their accuracy and inaccuracy, telling stories in his conversational style and combining research from many areas of endeavor to make his points.

“The relationship between success and IQ works only up to a point. Once someone has reached an IQ of somewhere around 120, having additional IQ points doesn’t seem to translate into any measurable real-world advantage.” (p. 115 large print edition)

Gladwell tramples the concept of political correctness by dissecting these questions: Why are people of Asian ethnicity so good at math? Why are so many of the highest flying law firms run by individuals of Jewish heritage? Why are some country’s pilots and airlines more prone to in-flight accidents? The suggested answers are both straight-forward and surprising.

“The number system in English is highly irregular. Not so in China, Japan, and Korea. They have a logical counting system. Eleven is ten-one. Twelve is ten-two. Twenty-four is two-tens-four and so on. That difference means that Asian children learn to count much faster than American children. Four-year-old Chinese children can count, on average, to forty. American children at that age can count only to fifteen, and most don’t reach forty until they’re five. By the age of five, in other words, American children are already a year behind their Asian counterparts in the most fundamental of math skills.” (p. 343-344, large print edition)

It could be argued that Gladwell takes his big ideas from the work of others and doesn’t do a lot of groundbreaking work himself. However, it also could be argued that he exemplifies the skill of synthesis, one of the essential 21st century abilities touted by Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind.

I would recommend this book to fans of Gladwell’s earlier work and to open, curious minds who can momentarily set aside sensitivity in order to see from a different angle. Of particular interest to many will be the exploration of the reasons behind American outlier Bill Gates’ successes in the computer world. Hint: it’s less a meteoric rise than the product of many, many hours of skill-honing work, similar to that of an outstanding classical musician.

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November 8, 2008

Two Graphic Novels (Review)

Posted in Book, Nonfiction, Review tagged , , , , at 9:42 am by Laura

I’m not sure what differentiates graphic novels from comic books. I guess when I think of comic books, I think of the Archie, Richie Rich, and Casper the Friendly Ghost comics I read as a kid. I’m not sure if the graphic novel concept existed then. Graphic novels seem to be bigger and longer and perhaps better quality? I also don’t know if it’s truly a graphic novel if the story is nonfiction.

Blankets by Craig Thompson

I borrowed this from the library and was surprised at the heft of it — 592 pages. The artwork is fantastic and in some cases fantastical. The story, although it had moments of clarity and beauty, was a bit grim.

American Widow by Alissa Torres

I read this within the space of twenty-four hours. After reading Blankets, I was prepared for all graphic novels to be that long. This one didn’t need to be, to have similar heft in terms of effect. Given the title, it’s not much of a spoiler to mention that the author’s husband began working at Cantor Fitzgerald September 10th, 2001. If you did not lose a close family member on 9/11/01, this book, despite its format, takes you through the confusion, grief, and suffocating bureaucracy.

I recommend that you pull these books off the shelf the next time you are in a bookstore to see if the artist’s style, narrator’s voice, and subject matter click with you.

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