group of nondescript people standing in a crowd with a few special-looking outliers in the mix

Outliers: The Story of Success

by Malcolm Gladwell

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How does Malcom Gladwell use specific examples and case studies to establish his argument in Outliers: The Story of Success, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of relying on such cases to establish an argument?

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In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell uses case studies along with citing quantitative evidence to support his arguments about the reasons that some people become more successful than others. Some benefits of using specific, highly focused examples include increasing stimulating reader interest, especially through discussing very well-known people, and making the information more memorable. Theories may be abstract, and offering concrete examples humanizes them. Getting the reader to identify with actual people make the theory more credible. The major disadvantage is that such cases are anecdotal so the general relevance cannot be established.

Gladwell often summarizes the findings of social science studies that researchers conducted with groups of people, and then exemplifies significant aspects of the results with one or more case studies. One argument he makes is that privilege and advantage correlate more to out-of-school circumstances than what students learn in school. He examines this situation among first-graders in Baltimore. The author first draws on data from a sociology study of 650 public school students, which showed differences in knowledge and ability as indicated by reading test scores. The impact of such differences is brought home through his presentation of two individual children, detailing specific enrichment activities the boy’s parents helped him obtain, while in contrast the girl would watch TV rather than get taken to museums.

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