Aug 24, 2012
Humboldt State University and College of the Redwoods have named Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, Outliers, The Story of Success, their Book of the Year for 2012/13.
Joining the hoary nature-vs.-nurture argument, Outliers probes the highly divergent roots of societal achievement and failure. Gladwell looks at the 19th-century history of an Italian town’s healthy and protective social structure transplanted to Pennsylvania. He also examines the literally murderous “culture of honor” that grew out of family feuds in Appalachian Kentucky.
The book goes on to analyze individual success stories, including those of the Beatles and Bill Gates.
Gladwell, a British-born Canadian journalist and staff writer at The New Yorker, contends that the self-made man idea is a myth. He believes superachievers are products of families, circumstances and an ultra-strong work ethic.
What distinguishes, say, the Beatles and Bill Gates, is not their extraordinary talent but their extraordinary opportunities, Gladwell claims. The Beatles lucked out with the unusually high number of engagements they performed in a German city at the start of the 60’s—“the sheer amount of time the band was forced to play.” From that unusual discipline and rigor, the group gained invaluable on-stage presence and stamina that led to its international breakthrough.
Young Bill Gates just happened to wind up in an elite private school in Seattle that just happened to have a computer club. “Most colleges didn’t have computer clubs in the 1960s,” Gladwell notes. By the time Gates was an eighth-grader in 1968, he was doing real-time programming.
And so, Gladwell concludes, success arises from a steady accumulation of advantages. “When and where you are born, what your parents did for a living and what the circumstances of your upbringing were all make a significant difference in how well you do in the world.”
Outliers echoes the oft-quoted passage in Marx’s work of 1852, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”
Faculty, staff and administrators at both Humboldt State and College of the Redwoods will incorporate Outliers in their curriculum and apply its insights to their work on campus. The book will provide an opportunity for HSU to reflect on its history as the school celebrates its centennial in 2013. At CR, the book will inform the work the college is doing to meet its regional accreditation standards, centered on the primacy of student success.
Both schools will host one-unit book discussion classes during fall and spring semesters and host events associated with the book and its themes.