Gladwell opens Outliers by helping his readers to envision the original, Italian town of Roseto in extremely specific terms: "Narrow stone steps run up the hillside, flanked by closely clustered two-story stone houses with red-tile roofs" (3). Such descriptions are important in a book that is, after all, about the role of original culture in determining success. From the outset, Gladwell establishes that his writing style in Outliers will be part explanatory and analytic on one hand, and part narrative and descriptive on the other hand.
Chris Langan's Demeanor
One of the earliest descriptions of obscure genius Chris Langan is both specific and complimentary: "On the set of 1 vs. 100, Langan was poised and confident. His voice was deep. His eyes were small and fiercely bright" (72). From this description, a reader might naturally assume that Langan was an accomplished man, since accomplishments could breed an impressive demeanor. However, Gladwell delves into Langan's life to show us that Langan's impressive exterior does not, in fact, indicate high success.
The Mudge & Rose Offices
In describing the world of corporate law, Gladwell envisions the uncomfortable interview that one Jewish Lawyer, Alexander Bickel, had at the old-line law firm of Mudge & Rose: "You can imagine the scene: a dark-paneled room, an artfully frayed Persian carpet, row upon row of leather-bound legal volumes, oil paintings of Mr. Mudge and Mr. Rose on the wall" (121). The office is meant to seem extremely orderly and (with the oil paintings) to firmly indicate the firm's history. Bickel would prove unsuited to the firm, and the prestigious and orderly Mudge & Rose itself would prove unsuited to a changing New York legal scene that, ironically, would later allow lawyers such as Bickel to thrive.
Late in Outliers, Gladwell offers in-depth descriptions of the KIPP school, which is "a squat, gray 1960s-era building across the street from a bleak-looking group of high-rises" (250). Yet this unimpressive exterior houses a vibrant school community, which Gladwell also describes in considerable detail. It is not enough for Gladwell to simply describe KIPP's successes: through precise descriptions, he imaginatively transports the reader to the school community that makes such successes possible.
Outliers Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Outliers is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
All the outliers we've looked at so far were the beneficiaries of some kind of unusual opportunity. Lucky breaks don't seem like the exception with software billionaires and rock bands and star athletes. They seem like the rule.