Outliers: The Story of Success Characters

The main characters in Outliers: The Story of Success include Christopher Langan, The Beatles, and Roger Barnesley.

  • Christopher Langan, who has a higher IQ than Einstein, serves as an example in Gladwell’s argument that intelligence is not the sole factor in determining success.
  • The Beatles, according to Gladwell, demonstrate the importance of practice, experience, and dedication in success. 
  • Roger Barnesley is a psychologist who realized that hockey players with birthdays in the first few months of the year tended to achieve greater success.


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Last Updated on October 25, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1105

Christopher Langan

Langan’s IQ is higher than Einstein’s, but he was raised in a poor household with an alcoholic father and few opportunities. He lost his scholarship to Reed University due to a paperwork problem, and though he attended Montana State for a short time, he dropped out after coming into conflict with the administration. Langan found that he couldn’t get anywhere in life without a degree, but he refused to return to school. Gladwell argues that Langan’s lack of determination and propensity for conflict with others are what contributed to his failure: ultimately, intelligence alone isn’t enough to be successful.

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Joe Flom

Gladwell writes about what it took for Flom to become a named partner at a billion-dollar law firm in New York. Flom is Jewish, and he was raised during the Great Depression; Gladwell says that this meant Flom could take advantage of being part of smaller classes and having less competition. He did extremely well in law school but faced discrimination at major law firms and couldn’t get hired. At the time, Jewish lawyers had to do the work that nobody else wanted, and that meant working with corporations to handle mergers and takeovers. Gladwell explains that in the 1970s, when mergers became common, these Jewish lawyers had the experience to handle them. He suggests that their success was due to being in the right place at the right time.

Robert Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer’s story is full of interesting contrasts. At Cambridge, he was told to study experimental physics rather than theoretical physics, and he tried to poison the person who prevented him from studying theoretical physics. He was also hired to take charge of the atomic bomb project in spite of being young (and, according to rumors, a communist). Oppenheimer’s success came about because of his persistence and decisiveness. Gladwell’s point is that these qualities are what enabled him to get what he wanted, and that Oppenheimer likely learned these qualities rather than being born with them. This is in sharp contrast to Langan, who wasn’t raised in an environment where he could learn these things.

The Beatles

Gladwell suggests that the Beatles are as successful as they are because of how much they were able to practice when they were first starting out. It’s not commonly known, but the Beatles played eight-hour shows nearly every day for some time in Germany. These shows were usually in unappealing clubs, but they allowed the Beatles to spend a lot of time playing live before they reached the United States. Gladwell uses this story because the Beatles were lucky to have the chance to gain so much experience with live performance, and he cites dedication to practice as an example of another factor that contributes to success.

Bill Joy

Although Bill Joy is a highly skilled computer scientist, his original intent was to study math or biology in college. However, during his freshman year at the University of Michigan, he became enthralled with the computer center and ultimately decided to go to grad school to work on programming. Gladwell’s take on this is that—although Joy is certainly intelligent—his success was also due to luck. Joy is lucky because he was able to...

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