In the book Outliers, what does Gladwell say is the stereotypical story of the rise to the top? What examples does he cite?

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chsmith1957 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You’re probably familiar with the stereotypical story of the rise to the top, because it seems to be deeply embedded in our culture. Gladwell recites this description of it in Chapter One, “The Matthew Effect:”

In the autobiographies published every year by the billionaire/entrepreneur/rock star/celebrity, the story line is always the same: our hero is born in modest circumstances and by virtue of his own grit and talent fights his way to greatness.

As immediate examples he cites Joseph from the Bible, the characters in the Horatio Alger books of the 19th-century, and Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida. But this “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps” theory doesn’t work, Gladwell says. It’s a myth without substance. There are always hidden advantages and cultural legacies that allow for the right circumstances to happen for the right person in the right place. He spends the rest of the book giving us specific examples: from Canadian hockey players to computer software giants, and from airline pilots to the Italian-born residents of a tiny Pennsylvania town. Some of the names you will recognize. He concludes:

It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.

Read the study guide:
Outliers: The Story of Success

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