Malcolm Gladwell is an outlier

Photo illustration by John Kehe/Staff

Malcolm Gladwell's third book, "Outliers," hit stores yesterday – and it's pretty darn good. The author, most famous for "The Tipping Point," has become an expert at finding patterns in innovation, choice, opportunity, and success. He's clearly using all four of them to his advantage.

Gladwell tackles social-science conundrums and psychological quirks in a way that's somehow both airy with wit and anchored by research. His new book focuses on those rare individuals blessed with talent and opportunity. Which of those two do successful people need more? Can you get away with one and not the other?

The Monitor's Books section ran its review of "Outliers" this week. (This post borrows its headline from the first sentence of that article.)

It's "thought-provoking, entertaining," writes the reviewer, but not "airtight. His theories raise chicken-and-egg questions about which came first, talent or opportunity, and don’t explain why some people take full advantage of opportunities while others do not."

Despite unanswered questions, the rest of the book is clever enough, so you'll likely overlook the cracks. Besides, debating the book with friends is half the fun of Gladwell's work.

Another happy return this week is Radio Lab, WNYC's light and bright science show. The brilliant series – and podcast – launched its fifth season with a hour-long episode about choice: "Why do some people seem better at making decisions than others? Should you listen to your head or your heart? We turn up the volume on the voices in our heads and try to make sense of the babble." (They actually chat with Gladwell during the show.)

If you're unfamiliar with Gladwell, he gave a TED talk a few years back. The online video is an excellent appetizer to his brand of brain food.

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