"Outliers," Vocabulary from Introduction-Chapter 2

May 20, 2014
Malcolm Gladwell questions the conventional wisdom again in "Outliers" where he examines the lives of astoundingly successful people and argues that some factors you may not have considered, like birth month, may have contributed to that success.

Learn these word lists for "Outliers": Introduction-Chapter 2, Chapters 3-5, Chapters 6-7, Chapter 8-Epilogue
The townsfolk were barely literate and desperately poor and without much hope for economic betterment until word reached Roseto at the end of the nineteenth century of the land of opportunity across the ocean.
The following year, fifteen Rosetans left Italy for America, and several members of that group ended up in Bangor as well, joining their compatriots in the slate quarry.
Those immigrants, in turn, sent word back to Roseto about the promise of the New World, and soon one group of Rosetans after another packed their bags and headed for Pennsylvania, until the initial stream of immigrants became a flood.
Neighboring Bangor was largely Welsh and English, and the next town over was overwhelmingly German, which meant—given the fractious relationships between the English and Germans and Italians in those years—that Roseto stayed strictly for Rosetans.
If you had wandered up and down the streets of Roseto in Pennsylvania in the first few decades after 1900, you would have heard only Italian, and not just any Italian but the precise southern Foggian dialect spoken back in the Italian Roseto.
“There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were dying of old age. That’s it.”
When Wolf had dieticians analyze the typical Rosetan's eating habits, they found that a whopping 41 percent of their calories came from fat.
They picked up on the particular egalitarian ethos of the community, which discouraged the wealthy from flaunting their success and helped the unsuccessful obscure their failures.
When Bruhn and Wolf first presented their findings to the medical community, you can imagine the kind of skepticism they faced.
Vancouver answered in the third period, scoring the game’s deciding goal, and then, when Medicine Hat pulled its goalie in desperation, Vancouver scored a third time.
In the aftermath of the game, the players and their families and sports reporters from across the country crammed into the winning team’s locker room.
By the time players reach their midteens, the very best of the best have been channeled into an elite league known as Major Junior A, which is the top of the pyramid.
For that matter, it is not all that different from the way the world of classical music picks its future virtuosos, or the way the world of ballet picks its future ballerinas, or the way our elite educational system picks its future scientists and intellectuals.
Over the course of the chapters ahead, I’m going to introduce you to one kind of outlier after another: to geniuses, business tycoons, rock stars, and software programmers.
And in examining the lives of the remarkable among us—the skilled, the talented, and the driven—I will argue that there is something profoundly wrong with the way we make sense of success.
In the famous nineteenth-century novels of Horatio Alger, young boys born into poverty rise to riches through a combination of pluck and initiative.
But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.
The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine.
A boy who turns ten on January 2, then, could be playing alongside someone who doesn’t turn ten until the end of the year—and at that age, in preadolescence, a twelvemonth gap in age represents an enormous difference in physical maturity.
Barnsley argues that these kinds of skewed age distributions exist whenever three things happen: selection, streaming, and differentiated experience.
As Merton puts it: “This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning.”
During the oral exams for his PhD, he made up a particularly complicated algorithm on the fly that, as one of his many admirers has written, “so stunned his examiners [that] one of them later compared the experience to 'Jesus confounding his elders.’”
Working in collaboration with a small group of programmers, Joy took on the task of rewriting UNIX, which was a software system developed by AT&T for mainframe computers.
“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything,” writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin.
“Programming with cards,” one computer scientist from that era remembers, “did not teach you programming. It taught you patience and proofreading.”
In an average week in those years, I was spending more time in the Computer Center than on my classes. All of us down there had this recurring nightmare of forgetting to show up for class at all, of not even realizing we were enrolled.
I was still relatively incompetent even when I got to Berkeley.
The Beatles—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr—came to the United States in February of 1964, starting the so-called British Invasion of the American music scene and putting out a string of hit records that transformed the face of popular music.
Here is John Lennon, in an interview after the Beatles disbanded, talking about the band’s performances at a Hamburg strip club called the Indra: We got better and got more confidence.
The school didn’t have its students learn programming by the laborious computer-card system, like virtually everyone else was doing in the 1960s.
In one seven-month period in 1971, Gates and his cohorts ran up 1,575 hours of computer time on the ISI mainframe, which averages out to eight hours a day, seven days a week.
To the readers of Popular Electronics, in those days the bible of the fledgling software and computer world, that headline was a revelation.
You had this multibillion-dollar company making mainframes, and if you were part of that, you’d think, Why screw around with these little pathetic computers?
He grew up in Mountain View, California, just south of San Francisco, which is the absolute epicenter of Silicon Valley.
Had he been just a little bit older and had he had to face the drudgery of programming with computer cards, he says, he would have studied science.

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