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Outliers: The Story of Success

by Malcolm Gladwell

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What caused the family feud between the Turners and the Howards in Outliers: The Story of Success?

Quick answer:

In Outliers, the family feud between the Turners and the Howards arose from a misunderstanding between "Little Bob" Turner and Wix Howard over a game of poker in which each felt cheated.

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The Turners and the Howards were two of the eight founding families of Harlan County. The patriarch of the Turner family was William Turner, whereas that of the Howard family was Samuel Howard. Unfortunately, the two families did not like each other. The Howard–Turner feud started when William and Samuel’s grandsons, “Little Bob” Turner and Wix Howard, disagreed over a game of poker in which each of them felt cheated. This disagreement led to a fight that extended to the following day, resulting in the death of “Little Bob” Turner.

Afterward, the situation quickly spun out of control. A group from the Turner family visited the Howards’ general store and was rude to Mrs. Howard, prompting her to report their behavior to her son Wilse Howard, who retaliated by attacking Will Turner. Soon after, the Turners attacked the Howards at their home, and the two families openly fought outside the county court-house. In the ensuing gunfire, Will Turner was killed. In the following days, more and more people both within and without the two families died as a result of the feud.

According to Gladwell, the TurnerHoward feud should not be analyzed in isolation, as during this period, a pattern of killings arising from such similar feuds was inherent in the surrounding Appalachian Mountains. Using sociological evidence, Gladwell attributes this violent behavior among these early settlers to the “culture of honor” that they held, which required them to aggressively protect their reputation at all costs.

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