Thursday, June 25, 2009

Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell ------ 4.5 STARS

Before beginning my review of Outliers, I must admit that I have a proclivity for books of this type. Some of my other favorites includes Freakonomics and Gladwell's others books, The Tipping Point and Blink. If you have not read books of this ilk, they basically take normal, everyday things or ideas, look at a whole bunch of data behind them and then explain the causes and reasons in a very interesting way.

Outliers, like the other books mentioned above, is another great book that delves into what makes people successful. Before I go on, I have realized that in my more recent posts I have begun to summarize books and actually give away too much of the plot.... This is not good. I am a blogger and reviewer of books not a poor alternative to Sparknotes. With that being said, let me whet your appetite about this story.

Gladwell again does an incredible job taking the question of how people become outliers, (i.e. HUGE successes) which one might think would include a multitude of varied explanations, and boils it down to a couple of key arguments. Some of the questions he evaluates and answers include:
  • Why there are never good hockey players born after August?
  • Why is practical intelligence more important than IQ?
  • Why is "concerted cultivation" critical for student achievement?
  • Why are autonomy, complexity and connection the key to happiness in work?
  • Why do Koreans make bad pilots and why are there less plane crashes when the first officer and not the pilot is flying the plane?
  • Why are Asians so good at math?
  • What one simple change can we make to schools to assure far greater success from low and middle socio-economic classes?
Looking at this seemingly unrelated group of questions, you might find it hard to understand how Gladwell relates them all, but there is indeed a method behind his madness, and by the conclusion of the book, you find that he nicely interweaves and explains how each question and answer support a very simple conclusion about why people become successful.

Overall, I found this book extremely interesting and a fast read. Although I really though it started strong, wavered in the middle, and finished on a high note, the book is excellent.

If you have inclination to become a giant success or, if nothing else, would like to know why Bill Gates is Bill Gates and how The Beatles became The Beatles, this is a book for you.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Columbine -- Dave Cullen ------ 4 STARS

April marked the tenth anniversary of the Columbine shootings. Columbine, by Dave Cullen, was released earlier this year and is a retrospective about the shootings, town, and two killers.

Having waited an inordinate amount of time for the Alexandria City Library to finally get this book into circulation (I was #2 on the hold list... quite geeky, I know), I plowed through it in about two weeks and was appreciative of the very straightforward and clear writing style Cullen adheres to.

The book is basically a retelling of the massacre, events leading up to it, people involved, and a short summary of the individuals who survived past 10 years. Some noteworthy elements:

1. One of Cullen's main points was to dispel the rumors that existed and still exist about the massacre. Specifically, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (the killers) were not bullied, trench coat wearing losers and were actually quite the opposite. They were fairly popular, were friends with a variety of students and did not target any particular group as originally thought. He goes on to clear up a number of other misunderstandings that persisted after the killings but this was the main one.

2. Another myth he dispelled was that the two were intent on murdering certain individuals using mostly guns. Rather, their goal was to kill as many people as possible and had brought to school numerous bombs, some included napalm. Harris had written a great deal about trying to do another Oklahoma City type bombing and kill as many people as possible. Experts believe had all the bombs gone off they would have killed far more than Oklahoma City (none of the bombs worked and they killed 11 students).

3. The biographies of the two killers were the most fascinating parts of the book for me. Both Harris and Klebold were two very different individuals though they both shared a predilection for violence and guns. Harris, the far more suave, outgoing of the two, is considered by Cullen to be a classic case of a psychopath while Klebold, they shy, quiet one, is considered to be more of a depressed kid who was pushed toward violence by Harris.

4. Perhaps the most shocking and saddening thing that came from the book was that there were dozens of warning signs from both individuals that something like this might happen. Cullen makes the point, however, that the information that would have been needed to fully understand them and prevent the catastrophe was held by different individuals who never all communicated with each other. This includes their parents, friends, teachers, social workers, and police officers. Looking back, its seems unbelievable that nobody would have stopped this but it many ways Harris and Klebold divulged very little to one particular person or group and kept much of their plotting private.

Overall, the book does a nice job of keeping a streamlined story while jumping from different parts to different parts (they go from stories about the kids, to the actually shooting, to the families, etc.). If you have any interest in learning more about the incident or what actually caused these two kids to complete these murderous acts, this is a great book to read. Even if you have just a limited interest in learning more about this harrowing event, I would still recommend the book.
4 Stars.