“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My review of Outliers

I was talking to a friend last night, who told me she read my Malcolm Gladwell review. I didn’t even know it was out yet! So I looked around this morning, googling myself, and I found myself listed on the NY Mag site as a Gladwell hater Now, that isn’t right – Michiko Kakatani, that enigma wrapped in a puzzle (the puzzle being: why is such a poor reader and writer kept on to review books, year after year, for the Times?) is a Gladwell hater, and her review of Outliers is argued with in her usual way – which is this – Kakatani has a prejudice, the writer under review contravenes it, thus the writer under review is wrong. As well as bad. As well as a bad influence. And the worst thing ever. Etc., etc. So Gladwell shows – as any sociology 101 course would show – that the social and the individual so interpenetrate that the notion of the self-reliant individual has to be considered a myth. To which Kakatani replies:

“Such assessments turn individuals into pawns of their cultural heritage, just as Mr. Gladwell’s emphasis on class and accidents of historical timing plays down the role of individual grit and talent to the point where he seems to be sketching a kind of theory of social predestination, determining who gets ahead and who does not — and all based not on persuasive, broadband research, but on a flimsy selection of colorful anecdotes and stories.”

Question begging isn’t the name for this – sophomoric ignorance is.

Myself, I was pretty disappointed in Outliers because – well, you can read my review.

And, hopefully, I am not a reviewer who just says I hate this, I like that. I find reviews that simply do that pointless, and a curse on the review industry, such as it is. I have an image of the perfect review that has nothing to do with the positive or negative. It is like one of those Brazilian faith healers who are reportedly able to place their hands on a patient's body and, through sheer mental concentration, reach through the skin and the muscle, rendered magically porous, to pull out whatever distemper is causing the sickness. Except, in the review, the reviewer reaches into the book, far into it, and pulls out its bleeding, beating, lovely or hideous heart, its center, its vulnerability, its divine, its secret name.

If you can't do that, don't review.

7 comments:

Arkady said...

That's a generous review, LI. Yours, I mean. I'd still read the book, if it were in the areas that interest me, even after being prepared for some disappointment. And if I found I'd disagreed with the review, I would be spared the misery trying to offer a rebuttal to a hostile, ignorant, vituperative evisceration.

northanger said...

AQ 408 = WRITING IN THE MARGINS = ON THE CURRENT EVENTS.

AQ 1061 = WE ARE OFTEN THE PRODUCT OF FACTS THAT WE HAVE NO CONTROL OVER = THE CONCOURSE OF THE FORCES HAS BECOME THE HARMONY OF THE FORCES.

AQ 376 = HARMONY OF THE FORCES = 3 HOURS A DAY FOR 10 YEARS.

AQ 191 = 10,000 HOUR RULE = OUTLIERS.

AQ 1524 = NO ONE WHO CAN RISE BEFORE DAWN THREE HUNDRED SIXTY DAYS A YEAR FAILS TO MAKE HIS FAMILY RICH = DAS HEILIGE - ÜBER DAS IRRATIONALE IN DER IDEE DES GÖTTLICHEN UND SEIN VERHÄLTNIS ZUM RATIONALEN.

AQ 343 = MICHIKO'S EYEBROWS = ENFANTS SANS SOUCI = THE WILL OF THE FORCE = TRAKOR'S PROPHECY.

northanger said...

AQ-343 MICHIKO KEEPS DAY JOB.

roger said...

Ah, North, you spirit of mystery, the sibyl of the Intertubes - what is the thing about the eyebrows?

northanger said...

yours are damn interesting roger, don't know why you aren't eviscerating books for the nytimes. must be,

AQ 469 = THE MECHANISM OF ACHIEVEMENT = EMISSARY OF THE PROPHETS = TECHNOLOGY ACCEPTANCE MODEL.

northanger said...

ps. a tad bit larry summers echo-y in here right now.

roger said...

North, you mean I haven't been attacking Summers enough?
Actually, I'll be fair. Though the incredible fluff jobs that the Times regularly delivers to Summers should not be viewed by children under the age of 18, still, the Leonardt column this morning does quote one thing that Summers, amazingly, gets, which is part of the LI mangle of inequality thesis:

"INEQUALITY Mr. Summers has spent much of his career tweaking fellow liberals with arguments he considers unpleasant truths — on the dangers of budget deficits, the benefits of capitalism and other subjects. But he seems to have decided that conservative orthodoxies have become a vastly bigger threat to good economic policy than liberal ones. His favorite argument today is one that instead drives some conservatives nuts.

It goes like this: To undo the rise in income inequality since the late ’70s, every household in the top 1 percent of the distribution, which makes $1.7 million on average, would need to write a check for $800,000. This money could then be pooled and used to send out a $10,000 check to every household in the bottom 80 percent of the distribution, those making less than $120,000. Only then would the country be as economically equal as it was three decades ago."

I'm a little doubtful about that figure - I think it should be higher. But it is a start.