By Gladwell Malcolm
By Gladwell Malcolm
Malcolm Gladwell is the bestselling author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, and What the Dog Saw. Born in 1963 in London to mathematics professor Graham Gladwell and author and family therapist Joyce Gladwell, he grew up in the Canadian countryside. After graduating from the University of Toronto, he worked as a reporter for the Washington Post for nine years, afterwards becoming the newspaper’s New York City bureau chief. From 1996 onward, he has been a staff writer for the New Yorker. He has been called one the “100 Most Influential People” by Time Magazine.
In his explanation of why he wrote the book, Gladwell begins by defining the word “outlier” as a scientific term used to denote things which “lie outside normal experience.” Dissatisfied with “crude” explanations of success, Gladwell’s goal in Outliers was to explore the reasons behind the extraordinary people he termed “outliers.” He noticed that our culture had a tendency to attribute outstanding success to some unusual individual quality or qualities. Yet he knew many people with extraordinary abilities or character traits whose success didn’t mirror that of a genuine outlier—one whose accomplishments soared beyond his or her environment.
Gladwell does not discount the role of the individual, but he maintains that there are a surprising number of patterns to be found within specific careers or types of success such as extraordinary wealth. Nor does he just examine extraordinary success: he delves into the reasons for failure and disaster as well because of the valuable lessons we can learn from extreme situations. In Outliers, Gladwell is interested in the relationship between events and their subtle causes—in the attitudes, structures, conditions, and legacies that can either hinder or help a person to move forward in life or in specific circumstances.
The last chapter of Outliers is a tribute to the legacy of Gladwell’s own background and the opportunities that were handed down from his grandmother to his mother and then to him. It is an exploration of the factors that have enabled his own and his family’s success as well as an expression of gratitude to the specific individuals and the broader context that enabled it. And finally, Outliers is an expression of hope—the hope that by seeing our attitudes and social structures more clearly, we can shape a better world for all.
At the beginning of Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell makes it clear to us that this is a book about success—and not just any kind of success, but success in the world. For many of us, that usually conjures up images of extraordinary fame and fortune—billions of dollars, recognition, important positions, fancy homes, glamorous careers, outstanding achievement, and so on. But as the book progresses, we come to realize that, although some or even all of those factors may be present, Gladwell’s concept of success is actually quite specific and somewhat deeper in its import. In Chapter 5, he introduces us to the notion of “meaningful work,” which he defines as having three key elements: autonomy, complexity, and a clear correlation between effort and reward. By the time we reach the end of the book, we realize that this definition of success probably means more to him than any other aspect of success in the world. In the acknowledgments, he states—again, very clearly—that this “is a book about the meaning of work” and that he learned its meaning from his father, who approached everything he did with joy, energy, and enthusiasm.
The book is divided into two main sections: “Opportunity” and “Legacy,” neither of which can really be separated from each other—and that is one of the main points of Outliers. Gladwell’s contention is that we cannot ignore where we come from and what we have been given—both good and bad—in terms of attitudes and opportunities. He claims that the stubborn imagery of the self-made individual has blocked us from seeing the real components of success, which have to do with our environment and the legacies left us by our families and ancestors. Superficial and seemingly random factors such birth date and skin color can have a profound impact on the course of our lives, especially if we are not aware of how they interface with our environment and its demands.
Yet Outliers is not a book about fatalistic attitudes. Rather, it advocates awareness and a direct, honest willingness to face ourselves and our histories and inherited attitudes in order to consciously shape our destinies. It challenges us to face the environments and legacies that have created and perpetuated unfairly skewed or insufficient structures that give only a fraction of the populace the opportunities they need. Gladwell believes that we can change. He does not equate the individual with even centuries-old attitudes and patterns, but neither does he believe that any of us can succeed alone. This makes Outliers finally also a book about gratitude and acknowledgement—the recognition not only of the obstacles that we face but of the gifts that we have been given, whether they are gifts of attitude, opportunity, or concrete advantage. What Gladwell is saying throughout the book is that outliers—those who achieve above and beyond their fellows—are not born but made. And his deepest wish seems to be to give many more that chance.
One of Gladwell’s main assertions is that no one becomes a success by themselves. Where we come from is important. The attitudes, legacies, gifts, and opportunities we receive as well as the obstacles that we face shape who we are and help to define our destinies. Gladwell believes that the popular notion of the self-made individual is a myth that has blinded us to the reality of what it takes to be successful, and in Outliers, he seeks to rectify that misconception. The stories he tells—from Roseto, Pennsylvania to Jamaica and the South Bronx—all speak of support systems and legacies that make all the difference in the individual’s success.
In the mid-1980s, Canadian psychologists were the first to notice that age eligibility cut-off dates for competitive sports such as hockey and soccer as well as school term dates were giving slightly older children an unfair advantage. A year’s difference in teens and preteens can be huge in terms of size and maturity, with the result that age advantages were mistaken for talent. Opportunities to improve would be skewed in favor of older children who then would become genuinely accomplished because of increased experience and practice time available only to those who made the grade to begin with.
The 10,000-Hour Rule states very simply that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to really master a skill. This is true regardless of the field. From chess players to violinists to athletes to software experts, the magic number is 10,000. Without that level of effort, neither genuine expertise nor success should be expected. The good news is that effort is commensurate with reward: if a person practices, he or she will get better. One point that Gladwell does stress, though, is that those who strive for outstanding achievement work “much, much harder” than everyone else; and to do that successfully, they need support.
Although intellect can be an important contributing factor to success, it is by no means the only indicator. The correlation between IQ and success only goes so far. The important thing is for a person to be smart enough for a given task or career, and anything beyond that doesn’t seem to make a measurable difference in terms of an individual’s success level. Success, in fact, depends on a combination of factors, including “social savvy,” creativity, self-assertiveness, and environment. It is also related to the expectations and attitudes instilled in people by their families or inherited from their ancestors.
Whether something is an advantage or disadvantage depends on its context. When Joe Flom and his associates first opened their fledgling law firm, they took whatever jobs came their way. Being Jewish, they were unable to break into the old-school “white-shoe” law firms, but those same firms refused to touch certain types of jobs. When the tide turned in the 1970s and litigation became popular and mergers and acquisitions grew more acceptable, the Jewish law firms had their 10,000 hours in and consequently became the attorneys to turn to, since they were now experts in that field. One man’s trash had become another man’s gold.
Like birth date, a person’s birth year can have a huge influence on the opportunities and obstacles that that individual is likely to encounter. A person born in a “generational trough” like the 1930’s, for example, had much more opportunity simply because there was less competition. The importance of birth year also lies in its relation to major economic, social, and political events. The Great Depression, the World Wars, the emergence of Wall Street and the building of the railroads, the invention of the personal computer all had a major impact on the lives of those who were of the right (or wrong) age, mindset, and preparation at the time of their event.
Gladwell defines “meaningful work” has having three essential qualities: autonomy, complexity, and a sure correlation between effort and reward. Those who had meaningful work left their children a legacy far more valuable than any amount of money. Instead, their descendants inherited attitudes and expectations that caused them to think and act in ways that would, in turn, lead them to take on meaningful work as well. A study of Jewish immigrant families who operated their own businesses showed that their descendants inevitably became doctors, lawyers, or members of another profession, evidently because the necessary habits and mindset were already in place.
The power of cultural legacy is so profound and pervasive as to go largely unnoticed unless challenged by some external circumstance or event. This is even true when it causes repeated damage to a culture, simply because what might seem absurd to an outsider appears normal to those who live with it all the time. The influence of cultural legacy extends deep into the structure of the language, customs, laws, and other modes of interaction among people. One of the difficulties with our modern global culture is that what might work well in one situation can prove disastrous in another—or it may be of great benefit.
The great lesson of cultural legacy is that if we can become aware of the factors influencing our choices, we have the possibility of changing them so that they create opportunities rather than obstacles. When, instead of producing advantages, they spell disaster, then they need to be shed; but as human beings with awareness and the ability to choose, we are capable of this. Gladwell also makes the point that if our social and institutional structures serve only a segment of the population, then ultimately the entire society loses because we are fostering only a fraction of our talent.
The emphasis here is on the word gift. If we are honest, we must acknowledge that so much of what we have is not self-made but given to us by our families, our ancestors, our environment, our circumstances and time period. In a way, the main theme of Outliers is an antedote to our tendency to see our gifts and accomplishments as the result of our own doing. Gladwell reminds us of the importance of gratitude and acknowledgment and that the natural outcome of that sense of connection is that it extends the same hope and opportunity it has received to others.
A pioneer of psychosomatic health research in the 1960s, Wolf and his team studied the inhabitants of Roseto, Pennsylvania after learning about their unusually good health statistics in spite of what should have been disastrous eating habits and work conditions. Wolf concluded that Roseto’s supportive social lifestyle was the key to its good health.
In the mid-1980s, Canadian psychologists Roger and Paula Barnsley noticed while reading a hockey game program that a disproportionate number of players were born earlier in the year. Together with A.H. Thompson, they were among the first to study the relative age effect on everything from sports to academics.
Both renowned software entrepreneurs, Bill Joy and Bill Gates still inspire considerable awe in the world of computing. Joy, a software genius and cofounder of Sun Microsystems, wrote software that is still in use today. Gates, who cofounded Microsoft, helped to revolutionize the world upon the advent of the personal computer.
A mega-genius with an IQ of around 200, Chris Langan has largely taught himself everything from reading to philosophy, mathematics, science, and religion. Raised in intellectually inhospitable circumstances, he gave up on academia when he found it to be equally unsupportive. He is currently working on his Cognitive Theoretic Model of the Universe.
Early in the twentieth century, Stanford psychologist and IQ expert Lewis Terman—known for creating the Stanford-Binet IQ test—together with his team sought out, tested, and meticulously followed the lives of thousands of highly gifted children who came to be known as the “Termites.” Contrary to expectation, the lifelong study demonstrated no clear correlation between IQ and success.
Sociologist Annette Lareau spent several years following the lives of third graders from different socio-economic backgrounds to determine any differences in parenting style. Lareau and her team found that wealthier parents taught their children a sense of entitlement that poorer parents did not and that this social skill gave the wealthier children a key advantage in their dealings.
Joe Flom was one of New York’s top takeover lawyers and, until recently, the last living named partner of the now international firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom. Flom and his associates started the firm in the late 1940s, when litigation and takeovers were frowned upon and Jews were excluded from the top law firms.
The Borgenichts were Polish Jews who immigrated to Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1889. At a time when affordable, ready-to-wear clothing was a new idea, they started their own garment business and worked with ingenuity and diligence to make it grow. The Borgenichts’ story epitomizes Gladwell’s concept of “meaningful work.”
Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede was employed by IBM’s human resources department in the 1960s and ‘70s to interview employees about their attitudes in relation to work. “Hofstede’s Dimensions,” still widely used today, have provided us with valuable insight into different cultural mindsets and ways of interacting.
Levin and Feinberg founded KIPP Academy in the mid-1990s to give the disadvantaged children of America a real chance at equal opportunity. KIPP is proof that any child, if taught the right attitudes and given the right structure, opportunity, and support to make them work, can succeed regardless of ethnic, social, or economic background.
Daisy was Malcolm Gladwell’s Jamaican grandmother and a key factor in his mother’s success. A teacher and woman of vision, she was instrumental in ensuring that both her twin daughters received the necessary education and financial support that would enable them to move beyond the limited opportunities available in Jamaica.
The introduction to Outliers, entitled The Roseto Mystery, appropriately begins with the definition of the word “outlier” as a phenomenon significantly different from the main body of phenomena that surround it. Gladwell begins the exploration of this concept with his description of the inhabitants of Roseto, Pennsylvania, a town that historically had an unusually low disease rate. The caption beneath the chapter title reads:
“These people were dying of old age. That’s it.”
This had been true since well before the 1960s when the anomaly was first researched. Back in the fifties and sixties, heart disease was a common problem for much of the American male population. In Roseto, the death rate from all disease was far lower than for the rest of the country; and for heart disease, it was nonexistent in the segment of the male populace that should have been suffering the most.
But even more striking were the apparent reasons for the Rosetans’ outstanding health which, contrary to popular belief systems, seemed to have little to do with lifestyle choices such as smoking, diet, and exercise. In the late 1950s, a local doctor familiar with the Rosetans’ health statistics—and somewhat baffled by them—was relaying this information to a visiting doctor over a couple of beers. Intrigued, Dr. Stewart Wolf, a physician who taught at the University of Oklahoma, brought in sociologist John Bruhn in addition to other colleagues and students to help him research the issue. But the more he studied it, the less it made sense in terms of prevalent notions about health. Rosetans regularly ate hearty meals, using the more readily available lard for cooking instead of the olive oil of their native Italy. A large part of their diet was fat, and many of them struggled with obesity. They enjoyed drinking and smoking and ignored formal exercise—yet their hearts were healthy and their overall health was excellent. Further investigation ruled out genetics and location as well.
So what was the secret to this radiant health? Wolf and Bruhn were forced to examine things from a different angle and began to conclude that Roseto itself had something to do with it.
Roseto originated with the arrival of a group of eleven immigrants in the early 1880s. They came from Roseto Valfortore, an Italian hill town situated in the Foggia region of Apulia about a hundred miles east of Naples. But life was hard in Roseto Valfortore, and across the ocean beckoned a fabled land of opportunity. Some 6000 Rosetans eventually emigrated, a little under 2000 of them to what would become Roseto, Pennsylvania.
Rosetans were a self-sufficient community with traditional values rooted in the Catholicism they brought with them from Italy. Family and social relationships were strong: people regularly stopped to chat with each other, great respect was accorded to older members of society, and it was common to find three generations living under one roof. They were friendly and supportive toward each other, making sure that no one was left behind and that those who succeeded above their fellows took care to be modest about it. For a town of less than 2000, there were an unusually high proportion of civic organizations (twenty-two), and when one of Roseto’s early priests, Father de Nisco, first moved there, he established spiritual societies and festivals in addition to providing the townspeople with the means and know-how to grow their own fruit and vegetables. Rosetans also worked hard: many of the men, like their forbears in Italy, worked in the quarries while the women held jobs in the blouse factories. But they worked not just for themselves but also to better the lives of their children by sending them to college.
Gladwell begins Outliers with the story of Roseto precisely because he maintains that success, like the Rosetans’ outstanding health, cannot be achieved in isolation—that who we are and what we become is very much dependent on where we come from, the type and extent of support and interaction we have, and the people and attitudes that surround us. Before Wolf and Bruhn’s study, we had a completely different understanding of what constituted the basis for health. Gladwell’s aim in Outliers is to do the same for our understanding of success.
The title of the first chapter of Outliers, “The Matthew Effect,” is based on the saying in Matthew 25:29 that
… unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance:
but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
The parable is about the rewarding of effort and skill, a concept that has greatly influenced much of our modern American, if not worldwide, culture. But as we will see, the interpretation of the saying itself in this chapter is not quite what we would expect.
Gladwell begins the chapter with a description of the final playoff game between two of the most talented junior league ice hockey teams in the world: the Vancouver Giants and the Medicine Hat Tigers. He describes how many of the players have been training since the time they could walk, and that from these, the best of the best have been sought out, selected, and trained to meet the world-class standard of Major Junior A hockey. Canadian hockey, he tells us, is one of the purest meritocracies around. It’s based solely on ability and effort—not on how rich or famous your family is or where you live or any other factor that isn’t directly related to how well you play. There is, however, one somewhat random factor that does have a significant influence on which players, above all others, are given the coveted chance to hone their skills—and this is where Gladwell presents us with a sudden twist.
But the chapter isn’t really about hockey at all. It’s about success—what for many is the enigma of success. Gladwell maintains that we have been asking the wrong questions and making the wrong assumptions about what constitutes success. We have been conditioned to believe that it is the result of personal talent and grit above all else, that the individual—no matter what his or her circumstances—succeeds by virtue of merit and effort, not because of any external advantages or special opportunities. Even when those are available, we hypothesize that they arise from individual determination and effort or from some extraordinary talent or gift. But to Gladwell, success is not just the product of individual talent and effort but, perhaps even more importantly, of the conditions of a person’s environment and the resulting opportunities that are given and nurtured. Individual passion, effort, talent, and consistency are all important factors, but they can be greatly helped or hindered by what surrounds them. Gladwell uses the analogy of a tree in the forest that needs not only a seed but also rich soil, sunshine, and the good fortune to avoid the woodman’s axe. He specifically tells us: “This is not a book about trees, but about forests.”
In this chapter, the outstanding random factor that Gladwell uncovers is birth date, which in sports and even in general education can act as a huge influence in determining a person’s opportunities from an early age. This went unnoticed for a long time until psychologist Roger Barnsley’s wife Paula, herself a psychologist, noticed the high incidence of January, February, and March birth dates while reading a roster of Major Junior A hockey team members. The more the Barnsleys looked into it, the more they realized that this was a pattern in Canadian professional hockey, and they finally traced it back to the yearly age eligibility cut-off date in the selection and streaming process. Around the ages of nine or ten, when a year’s worth of physical and mental growth can produce huge differences in children, cut-off dates for different programs for competitive sports, educational giftedness, or even school entry can create unfair advantages for the children born close after those dates compared with those born at the other end of the year. What begins as a slight advantage can then turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to either repeated experiences and opportunities fostering additional growth and advantage or to regular experiences of struggle and disappointment. In the case of ice hockey, the boys born closer to the cut-off date were simply bigger and more mature, and this in turn—all other factors being equal—gave them the edge that brought them the training and experience to really hone their skills. This self-fulfilling set-up was dubbed the “Matthew Effect” because it interpreted the parable as meaning that those who had what they needed would be given more, while those who didn’t would lose the little they had.
Gladwell’s proposed solution is to postpone special competitive programs until children have reached a more stable stage of maturity and then to stagger entry and cut-off dates in order to equalize opportunities and advantages. He maintains that by doing so, more talent will be uncovered and fostered, thus producing added benefit not only for competitors but for the fields of endeavor and, ultimately, for the world at large.
Gladwell’s main contention in Chapter 2 is that it takes a huge number of hours to achieve mastery in any field. In a statement about the debate over nature versus nurture, he says that
“… the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.”
A study of violin students at Berlin’s Academy of Music by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson divided students into three groups according to differences in the quality of their playing. Ericsson noticed a direct correlation between excellence and number of practice hours: those who excelled above their peers consistently increased their practice hours over time until they were spending, in Gladwell’s words, “well over thirty hours a week. In fact, by the age of twenty, the elite performers had each totaled ten thousand hours of practice.” This was in contrast to the others whose lesser total number of practice hours by the same age was mirrored in the quality of their playing.
The researchers also compared the habits of professional and amateur pianists, with the same results: quality of playing mirrored the amount of practice time, and those who achieved excellence at the professional level consistently clocked ten thousand hours of practice by the age of twenty. According to Gladwell, Ericsson’s study found no instances of either “naturals” or “grinds.” Assuming sufficient ability and achievement for acceptance into a top music school, the study found results to be commensurate with effort. However, the study did notice that those who truly excelled, as Gladwell puts it, didn’t “work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They [worked] much, much harder.”
According to studies by different researchers of world-class achievers in a variety of fields, the minimum number of hours required for outstanding achievement seems to regularly emerge as ten thousand. Gladwell notes that this rule applies to what are often deemed prodigies as well, namely, that their prodigious talent lies in the fact that they clocked ten thousand hours of practice—just earlier than most. He then refers us back to those young hockey players whose initial arbitrary age advantage led to increased opportunities and experiences that simply weren’t available to those who missed being chosen because they were younger and smaller. Gladwell further notes the huge amount of time that ten thousand hours represents, claiming that it’s all but impossible to meet that sort of demand unless you have the support of your surroundings.
In the opening paragraphs of Chapter 2, Gladwell introduces us to Bill Joy, one of the superstar achievers in the world of computing from the time when it was still relatively new. When Joy first discovered computers in his late teens, he threw himself into programming, taking a summer job in the field and then earning his Master’s Degree in Computer Science from Berkeley. There is no doubt that he clocked his ten thousand hours of experience relatively quickly, thanks to the invention of time-sharing—and the University of Michigan was one of the few places in the world where it was possible to take advantage of this revolutionary new concept. Back in the early days of computing, programming was a tedious process involving huge single-task computers, cardboard punch cards, and operators who had to process them for you once they got through with the line of programmers ahead of you. But time-sharing was like an early version of the internet, and Michigan’s brand new, state-of-the-art computer room was open twenty-fours a day. One student had even found a bug in the program that allowed diehards to bypass the need to pay after their hour of time was up. Joy and others would stay up all night and skip classes, and he calculated that by his second year at Berkeley, when he finally deemed himself proficient, he had clocked—you got it—ten thousand programming hours.
Gladwell goes on to cite the Beatles and Bill Gates—two of the world’s greatest success stories—as examples of the same rule. He maintains that what set the Beatles apart from other bands in the early years was a grueling ongoing gig in Hamburg in the early sixties that forced them to find a new way to play and helped them hone their professional style. Bill Gates, the other famous example, is well known as the billionaire entrepreneur who quit Harvard in his sophomore year to cofound Microsoft with Paul Allen. Like the others, he earned his status as a young computer genius and billionaire entrepreneur by clocking hours on end in front of any available computer (they were rare in those days) and by taking advantage of a series of lucky opportunities.
The ability to take advantage of that series of opportunities was no coincidence. In part, like the hockey players, Bill Gates was born at the right time. When the personal computer made headlines in January of 1975, it gave all who were open and engaged enough a massive opportunity to get in on the ground floor. The perfect birth year, give or take a few years, for the right mindset? 1955—the year Bill Gates was born and the birth year (or close to it) of a large number of successful computer entrepreneurs. And those who, like Gates, had their 10,000 hours in were ready.
In Chapter 3, Gladwell postulates that our generally held assumption that genius equals success is actually flawed. There seems to be a threshold where once a certain level of intelligence is reached—once a person is deemed “smart enough” for a particular task or goal, such as college or a specific career—that genius in the form of IQ level or extraordinary intellectual ability or talent is unable by itself to predict the level of success that a person will achieve. Success seems to depend not just on intellectual factors but on additional personal qualities such creativity. Gladwell gives the example of several brilliant English students who were tested for divergent, or creative, thinking as opposed to convergent thinking, which directs the mind toward finding one possible answer. In divergence testing, examinees are encouraged to come up with as many answers as possible: the emphasis is not so much on being right as it is on being creative. Interestingly, the student deemed the most intelligent of the group gave the fewest and least imaginative answers when tested for creativity. Along the same lines, Gladwell noticed that many of the world’s Nobel Prize winners, though they earned their undergraduate degrees at good schools, did not necessarily attend the best schools. The University of Michigan, taking things one step further, took the chance of admitting a higher percentage of minority students to its law school as part of its affirmative action program, in spite of these students’ somewhat lower grades and test scores. A study that followed the same students after graduation to see how well they had done in their careers and as contributing members of society found that there was no difference between the degree of real life success achieved by them and their more academically successful non-minority colleagues.
By contrast, a group of highly gifted individuals, who came to be known as the “Termites,” after early twentieth-century Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman, fared worse than expected. Shortly after World War I, Terman, who is perhaps best known as the creator of the Stanford-Binet IQ test, chanced across some surprisingly gifted children who demonstrated either remarkable talent, very high IQ levels, or both. Intrigued, Terman started to seek out other children of the same caliber and eventually received a grant, enabling him to put together a team of workers that helped him sort through and test several hundred thousand children until a select group of slightly less than 1500 had been decided on. IQs in this group were generally what is termed “genius level” or close to it—ranging from roughly 140 to 200. In the ensuing decades, all facets of these children’s careers and lives were followed in meticulous detail, providing the subject matter for Terman’s four volumes entitled Genetic Studies of Genius. But though many of them made valuable contributions or showed extraordinary prowess in some area, their careers did not necessarily reach the heroic stature that Terman had expected. In fact, many were ordinary, and some were admitted even by Terman to be failures. On the other hand, individuals like William Shockley and Luis Alvarez, whose IQs had been insufficient to warrant their inclusion in the select “Termite” group, went on to win the Nobel prize. Terman’s prior conclusions were challenged and criticized by sociologist Pitirim Sorokim, who claimed that a more randomly selected group of children from similar backgrounds would have fared just as well. In the end, Terman himself was forced to admit that there was no clear correlation between extraordinary intellect and remarkable achievement.
To thoroughly drive this point home, Gladwell opens the chapter by introducing us to Chris Langan, a man whose IQ and abilities are so far above average as to be incomprehensible to the mass of ordinary citizens. Langan’s IQ has been measured at around 200, roughly 50 points above Einstein’s. As Gladwell points out, the discrepancy between Langan and Einstein is equal to the difference between an individual of fairly high intelligence and a retarded person. Langan moreover demonstrated extraordinary ability at an early age, largely teaching himself both then and in subsequent years. But Gladwell does not consider Langan or many of the “Termites” true outliers, even though they clearly lie outside the range of ordinary phenomena. The reason is that Gladwell defines a “true outlier” in terms of extraordinary worldly success, noting that intelligence levels and remarkable talent need only reach a certain threshold in order to result in outstanding achievement. Even when a person like Chris Langan does achieve at an extraordinary level, those accomplishments may or may not be recognized or valued by the world. In the following chapter, “The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 2,” Gladwell digs a little deeper into the irony of genius.
In Chapter 4, Gladwell probes the reasons behind the discrepancy in experience encountered among different people of similar IQ levels. Why, he wonders, do some with genius-level IQs in childhood manage to make an impact on the world while others encounter only obstacles to their success? He begins by comparing the stories and backgrounds of Chris Langan, a mega-genius by all accounts, and Robert Oppenheimer, another outstanding genius who forever changed the world through his leadership of the Manhattan Project. What strikes Gladwell about the two stories is the fact that, when both Langan and Oppenheimer experienced trouble with authority figures in their earlier years, the results were different. Langan’s problems were not even his own doing but came about through the carelessness of others. In one instance, he got into Reed College on a scholarship but lost it when his mother failed to send in the scholarship renewal paperwork. When he tried to talk to the authorities, they showed a complete lack of concern. He ended up leaving the school before the final exam period, which earned him several Fs on his transcript when he had scored As in his first semester. In another instance, his brothers drove his car over the tracks while working for the railroad, which later caused the transmission to fall out. Langan had by this time moved back to Bozeman and enrolled in Montana State University, which was thirteen miles from where he lived; so when his car broke down, getting to his early-morning classes became difficult. When he tried twice to shift his classes to the afternoons, he was denied both times because of his poor academic record. This left him completely disillusioned with academia, and he decided to never go back. Oppenheimer, on the other hand, committed a much more serious offense: he tried to poison his chemistry tutor. The response? He was put on probation and sent to a psychiatrist. To Gladwell, this signaled an unlevel playing field—and he was right. Langan and Oppenheimer, though both intellectual giants, had learned attitudes and ways of interacting with the world that would make all the difference in their careers.
The succinct phrase that Gladwell comes up with for the personal quality that seems to be a key element in determining success or failure is “social savvy,” a learned behavior that has nothing to do with genes or race or natural intelligence. Only one factor stands out as decisive in the development of this skill: class. Gladwell cites a study by sociologist Annette Lareau who, together with her team, closely followed twelve families throughout their day in order to observe different styles of childrearing. What Lareau discovered was that there were not many but only two distinct styles: the heavily engaged style of the middle-class and wealthier families and the hands-off style of the poorer families. Both poorer children and adults were more constrained in their behavior and less trusting around authority. Poorer parents took a less active part in the education of their children, leaving it to the teachers and otherwise preferring to let the children develop naturally. Because they were often left to their own devices, the poorer children were more creative, better at using their free time, and less likely to complain. Their counterparts from wealthier families led highly structured lives, participating in numerous extracurricular activities. Parents took a very active role in their children’s development, doing whatever was necessary to give them the opportunities they felt were important and training them to think for themselves and to assert themselves when needed—in short, to value themselves. The result was that they were better looking, better dressed, and more comfortable in structured environments and around authority. The term that Gladwell uses to describe this attitude is “entitlement.”
This dividing line in terms of social training was visible in the difference between Langan’s and Oppenheimer’s backgrounds. Oppenheimer came from privilege, with educational and cultural opportunities to match; Langan’s family was destitute, and his mother—who had fallen out of favor with her own family—repeatedly got involved with men who had a knack for extreme trouble. Langan’s severely abusive stepfather finally left when Langan, who had started lifting weights, punched him in order to defend his brothers. Gladwell concludes that Langan developed a distrust of authority that prevented him from taking full advantage of the opportunities that he needed for “outlier” success. Sadly, this same experience was mirrored in what was called the “C” group among the “Termites”—those whose lives were disappointing in relation to their potential. Gladwell’s contention is that it doesn’t need to be that way, and he concludes the chapter repeating the now familiar idea that no one, no matter how talented or intelligent, can make it alone.
From the title of this chapter, you would think that Joe Flom is its absolute star—yet he isn’t. The chapter has many stars, all of them from a similar heritage and generation, and with experiences resulting from a similar combination of circumstances, personal ingenuity, and grit. Joe Flom merely epitomizes this group.
So what are the three lessons of Joe Flom? Who was he and who were the other people that he epitomized? What were their challenges and opportunities, and what did they accomplish? In a generalized nutshell, the three lessons are that
In the following paragraphs, we will explore exactly what Gladwell means by these concepts and how Joe Flom and others like him are symbols not only of a surprisingly predictable pattern but of many of the concepts learned earlier in the book: the need for a support system; the importance of birth date; the 10,000-hour rule; and the right kind of training in values and “social savvy.”
Joe Flom, who died early in 2011 at the age of eighty-seven, was the last living named partner of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, now a top international law firm. The son of Jewish immigrants who worked in the garment industry, Flom was one of the most successful lawyers in his field, and he got there by entering at ground level and working his way up—and by having the wit, the willingness, and the right preparation to take advantage of an interesting twist of events.
In 1940s New York, getting a job at a law firm was not merely a matter of having a law degree or even of being the best in your graduating class at a top university. In addition to all that, you had to have a certain manner and pedigree. Ideally, you should have been white, upper-class, Christian, well-dressed, well-mannered, well-heeled, well-schooled, and well-spoken. With all of that under your belt, you had a chance at entry into what resembled an exclusive men’s club as well as being a law firm. Judging from his pictures, by the time Joe Flom reached the top of his field, he had acquired a degree of elegance, but when he was first applying to the Manhattan law firms, he was fat, dumpy, relatively crude, and Jewish. What that meant, in the words of the “white shoe” law firms (“white shoe” being a reference to the shoes worn at the country clubs), was that even if Flom had had all the right qualities, he still would have had the wrong “antecedents.”
But Joe Flom was also very smart, aware, and self-assertive. He got into Harvard Law School without an undergraduate degree by writing the school a letter about why it should admit him. Once there, he didn’t bother taking detailed notes like the other students, relying instead on his extraordinary capacity for judgment. Being rejected by the traditional Manhattan law firms did not deter Flom from becoming a lawyer, something he had wanted to do since he was a child. He joined a start-up firm recommended by a professor of his, and that firm then took the “trash” that the established law firms wouldn’t touch at the time, including mergers and acquisitions litigation jobs. When the tide turned in the 1970s and litigation and mergers and acquisitions became more popular and less distasteful, Flom and his associates were ready. In fact, they were experts. As Gladwell points out, they had their 10,000 hours in.
There were two other factors, though, that contributed to Joe Flom’s rise, and to illustrate these, Gladwell introduces us to other New York area Jews with similar backgrounds. One such story was of Maurice Janklow and his son Mort. Early in the 1900s, Maurice Janklow, stood poised for success. Like Flom, he came from a Jewish immigrant background, but unlike him, he possessed the necessary manners and elegance in addition to business savvy. But Janklow’s career and business ventures never took off, and it was left for his son Mort to bring things to the next level. What was the difference? Maurice Janklow was born in the wrong generation. Not only was it a large generation, but it seemed to hit every major calamity of the twentieth century at just the wrong times in Maurice Janklow’s life. As with software entrepreneurs, there seems to have been a perfect birth year for successful lawyers, namely, right around 1930. Mort Janklow, who was born in 1931—in what Gladwell calls a “generational trough”—had all the advantages of a small generation as well as better timing in terms of national and world events. For those born in and around the early 1930s, there would be less competition in the hospitals, schools, and universities. New York in the 1940s also had some of the best public schools anywhere. In terms of career, being poised between two large generations, their services would be in demand. If the members of this generation chose to become lawyers, being Jewish would no longer be a drawback when attitudes toward litigation law shifted in the 1970s, since Jewish lawyers were the first to be willing to take on those jobs for the simple reason that they had been locked out of the others.
This brings us to Lesson Number Three: the importance of heritage. More specifically, this refers to the values learned from families and ancestors, and in this sense, being the offspring of Jewish immigrants was a great blessing. Early in the twentieth century, a wave of Jewish immigrants flocked from Europe to America. They brought with them traditional values, a great capacity for hard work, and a good dose of business savvy. But they also brought with them something else, something that would make all the difference in how they approached life in the new world: they brought a trade. Many of the immigrant Jews had some sort of developed skill related to the garment industry. They were tailors, seamstresses, milliners, and so on. The concept of affordable, ready-to-wear clothing was relatively new at the time, so when a couple like Louis and Regina Borgenicht, fresh off the boat from Poland, started looking for a way to earn a living, that was what jumped out at them. As was common on the Lower East Side, they started their own small garment-making company and worked night and day to make it a success. Their hard work, courage, and savvy paid off, and their company grew quickly.
Their story was not unusual among Jewish immigrants, many of whose offspring would consistently enter the professions as doctors and lawyers. Gladwell maintains that this was no coincidence. Rather, it was the result of habits and thought patterns associated with what he calls “meaningful work,” which he defines according to three key factors: autonomy, complexity, and the direct connection between effort and reward. The children and grandchildren of these Jewish immigrants learned that choosing the right trade—one that was in demand and that utilized developed skills—in addition to working hard and making useful connections inevitably led to success. There was a predictable formula. But Gladwell gets even more precise, maintaining that to be a highly successful New York lawyer could be specifically traced to being Jewish, being born around 1930, and having parents who worked in the garment industry. Obviously, Joe Flom functions as the central metaphor for this idea. But the chapter operates on a number of different levels, from big picture to precise subplot, as Gladwell attempts to illustrate many of his prior points in what is one of the most ambitious chapters in the book.
In Chapter 5, Joe Flom provided the central metaphor for a specific phenomenon and, beyond that, a much larger pattern. In Chapter 6, the metaphor is Harlan, Kentucky. The caption beneath the title reads:
Die like a man, like your brother did.
Many of us reading that might imagine a scene from a Western, with one man pointing a shotgun at another man’s head before blowing his brains out. But the source of that rather hardhearted comment was actually the mother of a man who had just been shot and was dying. The Turners were one of Harlan, Kentucky’s two main feuding families, the other being the Howards. As Will Turner cried out in pain after being fatally wounded, his mother responded by telling him to cut it out and just die. As Gladwell says, death and violence were such a common part of life in Harlan that people just dealt with them when they occurred.
The other aspect of life in Harlan that this saying reveals is that theirs was part of a “culture of honor.” Harlan was not the only town in Appalachia where violence and murder were so common that many incidents never even made it to court, and those that did didn’t necessarily stand a chance of a fair trial. Anarchy and intimidation were stronger factors than any governing authority, and any sort of insult or annoyance could easily result in violence ending in death. To many of us, this might seem nonsensical, but in Appalachian and, more subtly, much of Southern culture, it was part of an ancient, primal code of honor—a legacy dating back several centuries to its European roots.
According to sociologists, cultures of honor tend to spring up in highland areas in societies whose main livelihood consists of sheep- or goatherding. The Scottish highlands, the Basque region, and Sicily are all examples of places rooted in this way of thinking. The theory is that herding and highland life are sparse and difficult, requiring constant vigilance and enough aggressiveness to defend the herds from would-be thieves and predators. The heightened levels of defensiveness required for such a lifestyle evidently led to an increased sensitivity to insults and perceived threats. Rather than attempting to defuse a situation, a man’s honor or possessions had to be defended. Many of the descendants of the Appalachian region came from just such an area and culture, to be precise, the dangerous, territorially ill-defined borderlands area of southern Scotland and northern England as well as Ulster in northern Ireland—and they brought with them centuries of clannishness, habitual violence, strong blood ties, and the vigilant herding mentality.
To illustrate just how strong this cultural legacy could be, Gladwell cites a study done at the University of Michigan by psychologists Don Cohen and Richard Nisbett in the early 1990s. They wanted to determine the extent to which “culture of honor” patterns still influenced contemporary behavior, so they tested a group of young men aged eighteen to twenty, using one half as the control group and the other as the test group. One of the tests consisted of the following: one by one, the young men were instructed to fill out a questionnaire and then deliver it to another room down a narrow hall lined with file cabinets. Along the way, another man planted by the experimenters would test them by pulling open a file cabinet drawer. As the young men tried to pass, he would act annoyed, mutter the agreed-upon trigger word “asshole,” and slam the drawer. On returning, the young men were carefully observed for signs of anger, which included giving them a saliva test to observe their testosterone and cortisol levels. They also had to read and furnish a conclusion to a story about a young man whose fiancée was being heavily flirted with by a mutual acquaintance, the idea being to further test their hormone levels.
What the researchers found was a clear demarcation line between the behavior patterns of Northerners versus Southerners regardless of any other factor, including class and economic background. In fact, most had fathers in management and, as Gladwell points out, were cosmopolitan enough to leave their home surroundings to go to school in one of the northernmost states in the country. Yet the legacy of their Southern upbringing, with its embedded code of honor, governed their reactions to the extent that it produced palpable physical and emotional results. This was in marked contrast to those raised in the North, who tended to have a much more level reaction, sometimes even showing a decrease in hormonal levels after an initial expression of anger. The Southerners, on the other hand, would be more likely to repress their anger and then explode.
Chapter 6 functions as the opening to Part Two of Outliers, entitled Legacy. While Part One explores the role of opportunity in determining success, Part Two delves into the notion of the powerful effect of cultural legacy and whether a better understanding of this element can improve a person’s chances for success. Gladwell ends the chapter and introduces the section by saying that he believes it can.
Chapter 7 begins by recounting the fateful night in August 1997, when Korean Air flight 801 crashed into the side of a mountain while making its descent to Guam. In some ways, the disaster made no sense. The pilot was experienced and healthy and had even recently won a flight safety award. In other ways, it had the classic characteristics preceding a plane crash: poor weather, pilot fatigue, and what would have been an otherwise minor runway equipment malfunction. In fact, none of these factors by themselves would have been a problem; but according to psychologist Malcolm Brenner, one of the National Transportation Safety Board personnel who investigated the crash, the presence of all three factors called for a very alert, responsive, and assertive back-up crew. That’s where KAL flight 801 failed.
Gladwell goes on to say that it wasn’t that the flight crew lacked training or intelligence. Rather, it had to do with deep-seated cultural influences that prevented crew members from clearly and firmly stating what needed to be said in emergency conditions. Korean culture has a strong mandate in relation to hierarchy and authority. No doubt this cultural legacy has been useful in many circumstances, but judging from KAL’s previous high percentage of plane crashes, its results under emergency flight conditions proved disastrous.
Airlines now hire psychologists to train their employees how to effectively communicate under difficult conditions, avoiding what is termed “mitigated speech.” According to a study by linguists Ute Fischer and Judith Orasanu, there are six ways that subordinates typically try to communicate with the captain, the most direct being the command, usually issued by the captain himself. The rest are mitigated (softened) versions of that. In descending order of reticence, they are: the crew obligation, the crew suggestion, the query, the preference, and the hint. To make matters worse for the KAL crew, Korean linguist Ho-min Sohn notes that the Korean language has six different modes of address depending on the type of interaction and level of formality: formal deference, informal deference, blunt, familiar, intimate, and plain.
In 2000, three years after the crash, KAL hired Delta’s David Greenberg as their chief of flight operations. Recognizing that English was the international language used in flight operations and air traffic control, Greenberg required English-language fluency, first specifically upgrading employees’ proficiency with aviation English. He also hired Alteon—a Boeing subsidiary that spoke only English—for the training division. But Greenberg recognized something else: that requiring his Korean personnel to use English as the company language would help give them a different sense of identity by freeing them of the cultural strictures built into their own language.
Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede was employed by IBM in the 1960s and ‘70s to travel around the world interviewing employees about their attitudes with regard to such issues as authority, problem-solving, and teamwork. By having them answer long, detailed questionnaires, he gradually built a database of information about cross-cultural attitudes known as “Hofstede’s Dimensions,” still widely used today. Hofstede’s study illustrates significant differences in the way cultures deal with such issues as self-assertiveness and individual responsibility, ambiguity, and authority. He had specific names for these principles and ranked countries from highest to lowest in terms of how they dealt with each issue. Examples given in this chapter by Gladwell include the scale that measured cultural expectations of individual responsibility, called the “individualism-collectivism scale;” one that measured tolerance of ambiguity versus a tendency to stick to rules, called “uncertainty avoidance;” and one of the most critical in relation to plane crashes, the “Power Distance Index,” which determined how a culture dealt with issues of authority and hierarchy. Gladwell is quick to point out that Hofstede was not rating these cultural differences in terms of better or worse: he was merely collecting data for a better understanding of cultural attitudes.
The January 1990 Colombian Avianca flight 052 plane crash heading into Kennedy airport was a classic example of problems caused by differences in cultural attitudes toward authority and hierarchy. As Dubai pilot Suren Ratwatte pointed out in his interview with Gladwell, New York air traffic controllers are notorious for being pushy and difficult, and the only way to deal with them that they understand is to be assertive. Not to do so is taken to mean that there is no problem. According to Gladwell, Colombia and the United States had widely differing scores in terms of Hofstede’s “Power Distance Index” (PDI). In spite of emergency conditions, the Avianca first officer was being extremely reticent and seemingly nonchalant in his speech. Gladwell cites a analysis by psychologist Robert Helmreich following the Avianca crash, in which Helmreich deduces that Klotz, the first officer, simply could not break free from his high-PDI cultural training and that, in his mind, the captain was not being autocratic enough with his commands. According to the transcript, Caviedes, the captain, told Klotz several times to inform ATC that were running out of fuel and that it was an emergency; but Caviedes was also tired and may not have come across as sufficiently commanding. Klotz did what he was told but without the necessary sense of urgency—probably, as Helmreich suggests, because of his deep-seated instinct to defer to authority under all conditions.
Gladwell notes that there is a direct correlation between countries with a high PDI and the number of plane crashes per country. At the time that Outliers was written in 2008, Brazil had the highest ranking, followed by South Korea. Colombia was evidently ranked high enough that the issue of interaction with authority presented a problem under difficult circumstances requiring more assertiveness on the part of subordinates. Still, as Gladwell points out, awareness of cultural factors can greatly aid in improving chances for success, whether in aviation or any other field, and the most compelling proof of this is Korean Air’s now stellar aviation record.
The title of Outliers’ Chapter 8 is not “Rice Paddies and Math Geniuses:” it is “Rice Paddies and Math Tests.” The caption beneath it reads:
No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year
fails to make his family rich.
That saying is one of the Chinese proverbs that motivates rice farmers in southern China to rise every morning, day in and day out, to perform the constant, backbreaking work required to successfully cultivate a rice paddy and manage the business associated with it. It is a family affair, and it is a year-round endeavor. No hibernating in the winter or twenty-hour work weeks accompany the lifestyle of the Chinese rice farmer. And rice farming in China and much of the rest of Asia is not an isolated enterprise: it is everywhere. Rice is the great Asian staple and, historically, the measure of a person’s wealth. Nor is it an easy-come, easy-go profession. It requires painstaking planning, preparation, and maintenance, and as already mentioned—it never stops. Even compared with other types of farming, rice cultivation is labor-intensive work. Gladwell takes us through all the details of a rice farmer’s work, from carving the rice terraces into the mountainside or building them on marshland and river plains to constructing a complex irrigation system, building the claypan, placing the mud on top, ensuring proper drainage, and providing the fertilizer at the right time and in the right amounts. But that was only the beginning. Then came the planting and transplanting of seedlings, the nurturing, the weeding, the grooming from insects, the maintenance of water levels and temperature, and finally, the harvesting, which was accomplished as quickly as possible so that a second crop could be immediately planted before the onset of winter—all of it done by hand and requiring careful attention. The winter season would be spent repairing the hut and irrigation dikes, making tofu, catching insects and snakes (considered delicacies), and making baskets and hats to sell at the market. In the spring, the whole farming process would begin again. The average work year of a Chinese rice farmer? Three thousand hours.
The point that Gladwell is making is that wet rice farming is not just a business: it is a mentality, a way of life—and one that the Chinese have cultivated for thousands of years. It is a legacy. So what does all this have to do with math tests? It has long been recognized that Asians—at least from certain countries—have superior mathematical ability. In a footnote, Gladwell tells us that tests comparing the math scores of students from Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and Hong Kong found that the students from those countries consistently scored in the ninety-eighth percentile in contrast to their European and American counterparts, who scored between the twenty-sixth and thirty-sixth percentiles. In another footnote, he relates that the ancestors of many of the top graduating students at MIT came from the Pearl River Delta area of South China—the land of rice paddies. Assertions that Asian mathematical ability had to do with innate aptitude and IQ have been refuted by the leading IQ expert James Flynn in his book Asian Americans: Achievement Beyond IQ, in which he states that Asians have tended to score slightly lower than whites on IQ tests. With his usual sociological and psychological curiosity, Gladwell decides to explore this phenomenon a little more closely.
First he points out that built into the structure of Chinese and other Far Eastern languages is a very logical approach to numbers. Instead of the relative linguistic randomness of Western languages which, for example, say half of the teen numbers one way and half another, the languages of countries such China, Japan, and Korea have a predictable, inherently mathematical approach. A strange sounding number like eleven is very simply ten-one, just as twenty-one is two-tens-one; and the system is consistent throughout. Chinese numbers can also be pronounced much faster than their Western equivalents, which Gladwell believes to be an aid to memorization and another possible reason why Chinese children can count to forty by the age of four while Americans at the same age have only mastered one through fifteen. All of this, he says, may contribute to Asians’ greater confidence and ease in approaching mathematical problems.
The other major factor is directly tied to the legacy of wet rice farming. The hard work, persistence, and precision required to be a successful rice farmer are the same qualities that make a successful mathematician. Alan Schoenfeld, a Berkeley math professor, is convinced that mathematical aptitude is more the result of persistent effort than of innate ability. He loves to play the tape showing how Renee, a young nurse, persisted for twenty-two minutes with a mathematical software program until she finally solved an algebraic slope problem that most would give up on within five minutes. International educators who administer the TIMSS math and science test found a direct correlation between test results and the degree to which students answered the accompanying 120-item questionnaire: those who answered the questionnaire most completely scored highest on the test. Their nationalities? They were from the same five Asian countries mentioned above.
Gladwell’s point is clear: the Chinese proverbs extolling hard work, the labor-intensive lifestyle of the rice farmer, and the Asian aptitude for mathematics are all directly related. Thousands of years of cultural legacy, though they may not manifest the same outward structure in a different setting, come through in attitudes, habits, and overall mentality, and when suited to a particular task such as mathematics, they can be a deciding factor in a person’s success.
KIPP Academy is a free experimental college preparatory school, mostly consisting of middle schools from the fifth to eighth grades, now with 109 schools nationwide. Founded in 1994 by Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, its aim from the beginning—though it’s open to all— has been to give the underserved low-income children of America the same chance at education and success as their wealthier peers. It does this not only by giving them the necessary educational tools but through character and social training as well. The statistics alone are proving, as KIPP itself likes to say, that “demographics do not define destiny.” The greater part of its students are lower-income and of African-American or Latino origin, and the vast majority of them go on to graduate high school and attend college. KIPP’s goal now is to increase the percentage of college graduates.
KIPP, which stands for Knowledge Is Power Program, represents a departure from standard American ways of thinking about education. Gladwell tells us how, in the 1800s, educators were continuously concerned about overinstructing and overworking students. There were fears of mental exhaustion, and one report even suggested that too much study was liable to contribute to insanity more than ten percent of the time. Gladwell postulates that the American educational system took its cue from Western agricultural patterns that, unlike the Asian model of the rice paddy, interspersed periods of activity with periods of rest and required that fields lie fallow in order to replenish the soil. A rice paddy, on the other hand, increased in fertility the more it was cultivated. He goes on to relate this to the length of the school year: in America, summer vacation is sacrosanct, and the school year is only about 180 days long. Contrast that with the South Korean and Japanese school years, which, respectively, are 220 and 243 days long. That is a full two months more per year for Japanese students than for American students.
To help us understand the impact that such a difference can make, Gladwell cites a study by sociologist Karl Alexander of Johns Hopkins University. The study used the California Achievement Test, a math and reading skills test, to assess students from three different income brackets twice a year, once at the end of the school year in June and once at the end of summer vacation. The tests were done over a period of five years, from first grade through fifth grade. In general, tests at the end of the school year showed low- and high-income students faring about the same, with middle-income students doing the best by about twenty-five to thirty cumulative points over the five-year period. But the tests given at the beginning of the school year showed a strikingly different picture: low- and middle-income students showed little to no improvement, while high-income students gained more than fifty points over a five-year period. Obviously, the high-income students were using their summer vacation time differently from the middle- and low-income students.
Referring us back to the rice paddy ethic of rising 360 days a year before dawn, Gladwell tells us how KIPP understood the importance of the strategy of increasing educational time to give its students a better chance for success. He introduces us to Marita, a twelve-year old from a low-income single-family home, who rises at 5:45 a.m. every day to be in class by 7:25 a.m. After a ten-hour day, she arrives home again at 5:30 p.m. and goes straight to work on her homework until between 9 and 10:30 p.m., stopping only for a short dinner break and to give her mother a report on the days’ events. At 11 p.m., she goes to bed, and the next day it starts all over again. Does it bother her? No. She understands the trade-off and is grateful for the opportunity.
Marita’s story is not unusual—it’s understood that KIPP students work hard. Yet, despite the daunting work schedule, Marita’s school in the South Bronx has become one of the most preferred in the New York area. KIPP’s math classes are among the best, giving students the necessary time and attention to really understand the subject matter. Students learn the usual reading, writing, science, and social sciences, and everyone is required to take thinking skills and music and to play in the orchestra. They’re expected to tuck in their shirts, walk down the halls in an orderly fashion, and communicate using the SSLANT method—a very specific way of teaching friendly, constructive communication and interaction. KIPP’s motto echoes is methods: “Work hard. Be nice.”
Gladwell’s assertion is that it doesn’t take extraordinary facilities or exceptional IQs or ultra-privileged circumstances to spell success. All it takes is a positive orientation towards hard, meaningful work, a supportive group of people who teach useful values and behavior patterns, and the chance to put all of it to work. To Gladwell, Marita’s “bargain” is an example of what could be possible if a vision like KIPP’s were universally applied.
Donald and Daisy Nation were teachers in a one-room schoolhouse in the village of Harewood on the island of Jamaica. In 1931, Daisy gave birth to twin daughters, Faith and Joyce. Both eventually became deeply spiritual authors, intellectuals, and important contributors to their communities. On the way, both received scholarships to St. Hilda’s boarding school, allowing them to receive the education that most Jamaicans lacked, since standard public educational opportunities beyond the age of fourteen simply didn’t exist. From St. Hilda’s, both twins went on to London’s University College. There Joyce met and married the young mathematician Graham Gladwell. The Gladwells moved to Canada, where Graham continued his career as a mathematics professor and Joyce became a writer and family therapist. Together, they raised their three sons in a beautiful hillside home in the country.
This is the outline that Malcolm Gladwell gives us of his mother’s life. But what he then tells us is that the outline by itself is not true in the sense that it’s incomplete. It may state the main facts of Joyce Gladwell’s life, but it doesn’t acknowledge how she really got there—the legacy and the gifts that she received along the way that made it possible for a young colored girl on an isolated island with few opportunities to move on to a life of achievement, fulfillment, and contribution.
Some of those gifts were fortunate coincidences of timing. When Joyce was still a small girl, the South African historian William MacMillan visited the island and subsequently published a scathing critique of the British Empire’s colonial policies called Warning from the West Indies, in which he advised the empire to either provide more opportunities or expect trouble. His words were prophetic. A year later, a series of violent riots and strikes broke out in various parts of the West Indies, including Jamaica, and Britain responded by implementing MacMillan’s proposed reforms. One of them was to provide scholarships for additional schooling for those interested in furthering their education, and for the Nation twins, these scholarships arrived at just the right time. According to Gladwell, had the twins been born just a few years earlier, they would have missed the opportunities those scholarships provided—thanks to MacMillan and the rioters.
As Gladwell tells us, though, the real force behind Joyce’s opportunities was her mother. Initially, only Faith received a scholarship from St. Hilda’s; but Daisy, a woman of caring, vision, and force, would not allow either daughter to be left behind. The Nations paid for Joyce’s first term, not knowing where the money would come from for the second. As though in answer to Daisy’s prayers, another student gave Joyce one of two scholarships she had received. A similar situation occurred with the money needed for university. Faith received the Centenary Scholarship, a grant given annually to only one boy and one girl. Undeterred, Daisy visited Mr. Chance, a member of Jamaica’s large and economically successful Chinese population, and borrowed the money—what Gladwell speculates must have been a huge sum.
But the story doesn’t end there. Both Daisy and Donald were colored, though Donald was a lighter shade. In the American South, being colored would have been considered an automatic stigma, a sign that the person was a slave. In Jamaica, the situation was a little different. Jamaica had a dearth of white women and a need for artisans, since the sugar plantations—unlike the cotton plantations of the American South—required both industrial and agricultural workers. Many of the Englishmen who came to Jamaica also had no intention of staying, their interests being purely economic. The result was a population of varying degrees of skin color, economic, and social status—and like it or not, they were correlated. The lighter the shade of the “colored” skin, the more privilege and opportunity a person was given. The artisan classes, the lawyers, the politicians, the teachers were colored. Daisy was the descendant of William Ford, an Irish coffee plantation owner who took a liking to an African woman whom he then bought as his concubine. Their offspring had fairer skin, so Daisy’s heritage was not one of stigma but of privilege and, therefore, of higher expectations for her own children.
Gladwell is blunt about the role of such factors as skin color in society, but he also emphasizes that they are superficial. His own mother struggled with uncalled-for racism and sought to rise above it and to face and overcome it in her own thinking. But Gladwell’s point is that real legacy has nothing to do with skin color but with attitude—and that attitudes, as powerful and longstanding as they may be, can be harnessed, shaped, and even shed when necessary. His profound wish is that if we can honestly assess where we come from and where we are, and if we can look beyond the superficialities to the deeper elements of our universal humanity, then we can consciously even the playing field and provide opportunities for all.
It is a few weeks that Travis and Old Yeller are laid up, and both of them are in incredible pain and suffering from fevers. Mama mixes up several antidotes for Travis and tries to feed him and Old Yeller whenever they will eat. Mama ends up taking over all of the chores with Travis laid-up and Little Arliss is not much help to her because he is so young and gets bored easily. Bud Searcy comes by one day with Lisbeth and a puppy. Lisbeth asks Travis how he is feeling and, wanting to sound tough, Travis tells her that he is doing alright. Lisbeth tells Travis she has a surprise for him, and she presents him with a speckled puppy. Travis seems to hurt Lisbeth’s feelings when he tells her that the puppy will be perfect for Little Arliss, because she leaves him alone afterward. Travis feels bad he just believes he already has a dog and once Old Yeller is better they will not want to wait around for a puppy to keep up with them; the puppy would be better for Little Arliss because it would entertain him. Lisbeth gives the puppy to Little Arliss, and Travis sees her look in at him as she and Bud Searcy are leaving. Bud Searcy then tells Mama that since her husband is gone and Travis cannot help with chores he will leave Lisbeth to help out. Mama wonders if the little girl will be of much help, but Bud Searcy assures her that Lisbeth is very tough and willing to help out. As he leaves he tells Lisbeth to behave herself.
Travis and Mama both believe that Lisbeth is too little to help out much around the house, but she proves the two of them wrong. Lisbeth works hard at her chores without being asked and is always looking for more ways to help out. Lisbeth and Little Arliss both help Mama to gather corn and though gathering corn is not usually a job that Travis likes to do he finds that he wishes he could be outside helping them. Travis feels as though his pride is bruised when this little girl can come in and do all of his chores for him, but he takes some solace in knowing that she cannot mark the hogs or kill animals for meat. One day, Spot does not show up for her milking and when she returns in the morning Travis calls to Mama that she is back; Mama goes out to see Spot, but quickly yells and runs back into the house. Spot had turned on Mama and tried to attack her so Mama wonders if she ate a poisonous pea-vine and went crazy, but Travis thinks that she probably has hydrophobia. Everyone watches Spot carefully over the next few days while she walks around in circles and ignores her calf. The bull called Roany wanders into the yard also, acting just as strangely as Spot though seemingly weaker. Old Yeller knows the family is danger when he sees the bull, and he growls because the bull is heading toward Little Arliss and Lisbeth. Travis calls for Mama to get his gun, but Mama runs after the children instead. The bull tries to run for Mama but falls over, giving Travis the opportunity to shoot him.
Travis and Mama know that they must bring the dead roan bull somewhere to burn the body because being so close to the house it may contaminate the drinking water. However, they find that Jumper cannot drag the carcass, so they must gather wood to burn the body where it lies. The fire is huge but still takes two and a half days to completely burn the body; when wolves smell the meat they are drawn to the area but stay away from the fire and from Old Yeller, who is acting as a guard. Travis remembers that Bud Searcy’s brother contracted hydrophobia, and he wishes that Papa would return home soon. Mama tells Travis that he must kill Spot as well, and they will have to burn the heifer’s body to be sure that the other cows are not infected. Travis follows Spot until she is in a place where it will be safe to burn her body without the danger of lighting the woods on fire, and he kills her. Travis’ leg is in pain when he returns to Mama tells him to rest, and she and Lisbeth go out to gather wood and burn Spot’s carcass. Travis tells the reader that had he known what was going to happen next he would have tried harder to keep them at home that day. Travis falls asleep and when he wakes he see Little Arliss playing with the puppy though Mama and Lisbeth have still not returned; he realizes that it probably took a long time to gather wood. Travis knows that Papa should be coming home soon, and he wonders if Papa will be bringing him a horse. He mostly wants Papa to come home because of the hydrophobic plague.
As darkness begins to set in, Travis gets worried about Mama and Lisbeth, but he realizes that the task at hand may have taken a while and he cannot think of anything that would be a danger to them. Travis brings Little Arliss and the puppy inside, and they eat a couple bowls of cornmeal and milk together. When Travis is putting Little Arliss to bed, he hears dogs fighting outside and hears Mama yell for him to make a light and come outside with his gun. Travis makes a light out of bear grass and heads outside with his gun where he is horrified to see Old Yeller fighting with a large wolf which Mama says is mad. Travis does not want to fire at the wolf right away because he fears hitting Old Yeller, but when the wolf gets on top of the dog Travis gets his chance, and he shoots. The wolf is dead, and Old Yeller licks Travis’ hand; the two of them collapse onto the ground together, and Mama sits with them. Mama tells Travis that they stopped for water at Birdsong Creek and the wolf almost got her, but she hit it in the head with a stick and then Old Yeller kept it distracted while Mama and Lisbeth got away on Jumper. Mama tells Travis that they got lucky, but Old Yeller is not so lucky; Travis realizes that Mama is telling him that Old Yeller is probably going to be mad now, and he needs to be killed. Mama offers to do the job for Travis, but once he realizes that she is right, he reluctantly and sadly calls Old Yeller to him and then shoots him in the head.
Travis is so sad about Old Yeller that he cannot eat, sleep, or cry and feels empty inside. Travis spends a lot of time thinking about how Old Yeller helped his family and Mama tries to talk with Travis about it to make him feel better, but it does not work. Lisbeth reminds Travis that the puppy is part of Old Yeller, but Travis only thinks that the puppy has not helped to keep his family alive like Old Yeller did; he feels bad for shooting his dog when he did not even do anything to deserve it. Soon the rain comes, and the hydrophobic plague is washed away from the land. Papa comes home in the morning, thinner than he was when he left but happy to have money and a horse for Travis. Travis appreciates the horse, but Papa can tell something is wrong with him. Papa gets the story from Mama, and after dinner, he walks down to the creek with Travis and tells him that he knows about Old Yeller. He tells Travis that he did exactly the right thing, just as a grown man would do, and he is proud of him. Papa tells Travis to think about the good parts of each situation because if he dwells on the bad then all of life will be bad. Travis understands what his father is saying, but he is still sad. A week later, Travis hears Mama yelling at the puppy for stealing cornbread, Little Arliss crying because Mama hit the puppy, and Papa laughing at the whole situation; Travis feels a little better. When Travis returns from riding his horse he sees Little Arliss playing naked in the water with the puppy and Travis starts laughing uncontrollably. He decides that he will bring Little Arliss and the puppy squirrel hunting because if the puppy is going to act like Old Yeller he may as well be of use.
Vin is in her room, piles of paper all around her on the floor. She continues to sort through the pages, rearranging them as she rereads different parts. She even starts to take notes of some quotes that she wants to remember. OreSeur watches her, commenting that she should use the desk instead of the floor. Elend walks in, and he is amazed that she is researching. He is also impressed with her penmanship, based on the pretty letters in her notes. Elend takes Vin with him to meet the messenger that has come from his father’s army. Vin is shocked to find that this messenger is also the man that was following her, the watcher. The messenger’s name is Zane, and he acts like an ambassador. Later, Vin and OreSeur wait outside for Zane. The two Mistborn spar, jumping from one rooftop to another. Zane says that Vin is different from the rest. She shouldn’t allow herself to be used by them. Vin doesn’t know what he means. When Zane leaves, Vin is sure she wants to spar with him more.
Zane comes back to his camp, or his father’s camp. He has a guard summon is father to the strategy tent. While waiting, he gives one of the soldiers strategic positions of the forces in Luthadel. Straff comes in and Zane tells him about the day’s activities, including what was said between Zane and Elend. They talk over a cup of tea. Straff, being a tineye, burns tin and smells poison in the tea he’s drinking. He knows Zane is always trying to poison him. He defiantly drinks the tea anyway and dismisses Zane. After, Straff summons one of his mistresses, a woman named Amaranta, who prepares a concoction of medicines in a special tea for Straff. He drinks the new tea, hoping he’ll live again this time.
Sazed has traveled six weeks worth of distance in six days, using his metalminds from time to time. Whenever a metalmind runs out, he leaves it on the ground, trying to lessen the amount of weight he has to carry. He notices several pillars of smoke ahead, sure sign that there is an army or camp of some kind. He is surprised to see that the army camp is made up of koloss, a dark blue kind of monster barbarian, once controlled by the Lord Ruler. Sazed is found by a koloss patrol. They force him to come down from the tree he was hiding in and follow them into the camp. Sazed is surprised once again to see that the man controlling these koloss is Jastes Lekal, a one-time friend of Elend Venture. Jastes says that he plans to conquer Luthadel as his own. He ends up letting Sazed go, under the condition that Sazed tell Elend about what he has seen. Sazed leaves, feeling even more urgency about getting to Luthadel.
Elends meets with his advisors–Ham, Breeze, Dockson, and Vin. Tindwyl is there, too. They try to talk Elend out of this plan he has to go into his father’s camp and trick him into fighting Cett. They don’t think Elend can con someone like that, but Elend is insistent that he can manipulate his father any time he wants. Plus, Elend argues, he’ll have Vin with him, in case Straff tries to take his own son hostage. Vin, listening in to the conversation, discovers through bronze that Breeze is soothing Elend to make him more confident. After the meeting, Tindwyl chastises Elend for not acting more like a king. Kings cannot doubt themselves. They must always feel that they are the right man for the job and convince others of the same through sheer confidence. The discussion is interrupted when Elend gets word that Cett’s daughter has arrived in Luthadel, looking for Breeze.
Cetts daughter, Allrianne, has left her father’s camp and come to Luthadel to see Breeze, whom she affectionately calls Breezy. Breeze is completely embarrassed by this, but the rest of the group gets a good laugh at his expense. Allrianne says she hated staying in her father’s camp; she needs comforts only a city can bring, like fresh water and a bed. After Allrianne leaves to freshen up, the group decides it may be beneficial to keep her. It may prevent her father from attacking too soon.
Vin, hides, suspended in the mists, just above Keep Venture. She spies on Ham as he walks across a courtyard. As she follows him, as a predetermined time, OreSeur jumps from behind some boxes and howls, scaring Ham. Ham reacts by flaring pewter. This confirms to Vin that he is not the kandra imposter. Vin admits to Ham that she is out of atium, meaning she’ll die the next time she fights a Mistborn with atium. She wonders is there is a secret to killing someone with atium. Ham doesn’t think so, although there have been some theories about how to do so. It may be possible, for example, to surprise them somehow. After that, Vin has a heart-to-heart with OreSeur. They talk about the way kandra are often treated, beaten by their own masters. They spot someone approaching the keep’s walls. It turns out to be Sazed, who has returned with, as he puts it, “problems and troubles.
Sazed is telling the group in the kitchens late at night, what he saw in the Koloss camp. They are not happy to know that a third army is on its way to Luthadel. Sazed does not know how Lekal is controlling the creatures, but the group does know that 20,000 koloss could beat an army of at least four times that many humans, meaning there is nothing stopping them from reaching and taking Luthadel. Finally, Sazed also share his fear regarding the mist killing people. He thinks something was released when the Lord Ruler was killed, although he never personally saw the mist kill anyone. Cett’s daughter comes walking in, half disheveled, asking what’s going on. They dismiss her and the group breaks apart, everyone either going to bed or to some corner to thin. Vin takes OreSeur outside to patrol. Back in his room, Sazed meets Tindwyl, an old friend of his. She criticizes him for returning and having strange theories about the mist.
Vin is outside, thinking about the beating she hears to the north, just like the writer of the log book, the supposed Hero of Ages. Zane finds her, and again he tries to convince her to leave Elend and Luthadel, claiming that she is being used by them and that she can do much better on her own, free to do as she pleases. Vin insists that she is very happy doing what she is doing and that no one is forcing her to do anything.
Vin is woken by a quiet bark of warning from OreSeur. She reacts by jumping out of bed, reaching for a dagger, and downing a vile of metals. She does all this before she realizes that the person that was “sneaking up on her” is actually Tindwyl the Terriswoman. Tindwyl obligates her to go shopping with herself and Allrianne, something Vin knows she will detest. They take a carriage to the market, the three women and OreSeur, who everything still assumes is just an ordinary wolfhound, along with Spook, who is forced to go to carry the girls’ bags. Vin manages to find a dress that she likes, and Tindwyl arranges for the dress to be made special for a Mistborn. Meanwhile, a someone has identifies Vin and a large crowd has gathered outside the storefront. Vin reluctantly goes outside to talk to them. They obviously worship her, calling her the Heir to the Survivor–Kelsier. She tries to say something that will inspire hope, but she feels that she is really just lying to them. Meanwhile, Elend is at the wall when Straff’s men attack. The guards and archers on the wall are in a total panic, and they barely kill a few of the invading wave before it retreats to the Venture camp. This was a test, just to try out Luthadel’s defenses, it is explained to Elend. Straff is sending a message, just before Elend is supposed to go out to the camp and talk to his father.
Vin opens the box sent from the dress maker, happy to find that the new dress is very well designed for a Mistborn, allowing her to move and fight freely. It even has secret hiding places for her daggers and some vials of metal. OreSeur does not think going is a good idea, since Vin and Elend would be alone in Straff’s army camp. Vin knows she must go anyway. Elend and Vin ride into the camp. Over the meal, Elend tries to manipulate Straff, but the man seems to catch on too quickly. Then he sends Vin out of the tent, so they can talk alone, father and son.
Straff and Elend talk inside, and things don’t seem to be going very well for Elend. Straff says he’ll just have Elend killed and demand Luthadel to open the gates to him. Elend says that if he is killed, Vin will kill Straff. Vin is outside, listening. She begins to manipulate Straff’s emotions, making him feel afraid. Finally, she smoothes away everything–every emotion he has, leaving him feeling empty and dead inside. The trick works, and Elend and Vin get out of the camp safe. Meanwhile, Zane has a little chat with Vin outside the tent, telling her that she is nothing but a knife to Elend. After they are gone, Straff commands Zane to kill Vin. Back in Luthadel, Elend learns that the assembly has voted to remove him as king.
The group meets together to see what they’re going to do about the assembly’s vote. They try to figure out if the assembly already has someone else in mind to put on the thrown, or if they simple want to send a warning to Elend because he has been ignoring them of late. The discussion leads to an argument between Breeze and Ham, as always, and Vin gets a taste of kandra humor when OreSeur whispers that he could always eat one of them and solve the argument. Later, Elend gets another lesson from Tindwyl about how a proper kind should act.
At night, Vin and OreSeur have a talk. OreSeur doesn’t think it’s healthy for Vin to keep herself awake for long periods of time, burning pewter to stay strong. He also doesn’t like the way Vin treats Zane, who should be her enemy. In the middle of the conversation, Vin realizes that she’s figured out what the Deepness is.
Sazed is in his room, studying and transcribing the rubbings he found. He knows that these few pages of transcribed text could keep him busy for months or even years. Vin enters through his window and wants to talk to him about the deepness. Sazed talks about if the deepness is even real or if it’s just a made-up story, some propaganda spun by the Lord Ruler. Vin says she thinks it’s real and tells Sazed that she thinks it’s actually the mist itself. The log book and the rubbings don’t say the mist actually killed people but that people died because of the mist. That could be because a permenant mist that covered the ground would kill crops and live stalk, leaving people to die of starvation. Vin also tells Sazed about the mist spirit that has been following her.
The assembly gathers, and Elend gets an opportunity to explain what he has done with his father. He uses twenty minutes to tell of the situation with the two armies and how his meeting with Straff went. He tells them that he used Vin’s power to threaten Straff, a move that may protect the city for some time yet. Meanwhile, Vin tries to pay attention to Elend’s meeting. She sees Zane in the crowd, and he smiles at her. They then have nominations for who should run for king. Elend and Lord Penrod are nominated, and, lastly, Cett is nominated. The man reveals himself to be in the crowd.
Vin sits in her room, studying the stacks of papers she has there. OreSeur is there with her, and they talk about the religious beliefs of the kandra. They practically worship the Contract above all else, the agreement they have with their human masters. Meanwhile, Elend discovers that some of the wells in Luthadel are being poisoned by someone, probably one of the armies outside. Vin talks to Dockson, and in the conversation, she determines that he can’t be the spy. She and OreSeur turn their attentions toward a new option: Demoux, a captain of the guard.
Elend works to find a way to convince the assembly to name him king again, while Vin wants to tell him her theory about Demoux. Tindwyle gets upset with Sazed when she finds out that he helped write part of the laws Elend put into place a year ago. Vin leaves the group and finds Zane, who immediately attacks her. She thinks he wants to spar, like before, but the fight becomes aggressive and Vin must fight him to survive. Zane tells her that he was ordered to kill her and that this attack was a warning. There are also many refugees coming from the koloss army, on their way to seek refuge in Luthadel. After giving his two warnings, Zane leaves.
Vin tries on another custom-made dress. Tindwyl tells her that Elend has nearly learned as much as he can from her; he’ll now have to learn to be a good leader through experience. Elend prepares his armored escort and carriage to go and see Cett. Breeze decides not to go, since he and Cett have history, which would only make the situation worse. When Elend and Vin actually enter the keep Cett is staying in and talk to the man, they discover just how sincere he is. He doesn’t want his daughter back, trusting that Elend will take good care of her. Cett wants Elend to step down from the election for king, and in return he won’t have Elend killed when he is made king. They also talk about the fact that no atium was found in all of Luthadel. Finally, Cett dismisses the two.
Sazed wanders through warehouse full of refugees from the koloss attacks, trying to help and health where he can. Tindwyl comes in and talks to him. She wants to see what he’s found–the rubbings he’s been transcribing. Meanwhile, Breeze has been listening in on the conversation, soothing both people in a way that would make them more friendly to each other. He walks among the refugees, trying to sooth away bad emotions and make them feel better. Elend and Ham come in, and Elend wants to make sure all the people have the clothes they need. Later, Breeze goes into the keep and has a secret meeting with Clubs. Though they always seem to hate each other, they drink together and talk; they’ve struck up a strange companionship. Allrianne walks in and tries to steal Breeze away. Vin, watching from outside, discovers that Allrianne is a rioter, since she was rioting Breeze’s emotions. She and OreSeur then go to find Demoux, still certain that he is the kandra spy. They find him in a little meeting of the church of the Survivor. He can’t be a spy, Vin decides. Then who is?
Sazed and Tindwyl sit together in the study, pouring over the rubbings, searching their metalminds for any references to the deepness or Hero of Ages. It’s morning, meaning they’ve been at it all night long. Tindwyl knows the course of actions Sazed takes is different from what the keepers want, but she is willing to stay with him and study these things further. Meanwhile, Elend and Ham walk along the wall. Ham comments that Elend looks more kingly than ever. As they walk, Elend announces that he has an idea to help Luthadel’s situation.
Vin, Elend, and the rest of the crew arrive early for the day of the election for king. Before the voting begins, Vin, trying to figure out what Elend has up his sleeve, discovers that he has joined the church of the Savior, in an effort to curry votes from the skaa members of the assembly. Suddenly, a groups of allomancers attack Elend and Cett. Vin manages to fight off the men, getting badly hurt in the process. After the fighting, the vote is moved to a more secure location, and the assembly members each announce their vote. Surprisingly, Penrod, a nobleman from the assembly is chosen the new king. Elend hands over his crown and leaves.
Straff Venture is angry that Zane sent a group of his allomancers to their deaths while Vin still lives. Zane promises that he has a plan to take care of her. Meanwhile, Straff meets with Penrod, the new king of Luthadel. Penrod is planning to give Luthadel to Straff, opening the gates to him and handing over the kingship. Straff, on the other hand, doesn’t want to enter the city while Vin still lives. Later, Zane tells Straff that he has been poisoned again. Zane leaves, and Straff is forced to ride hard back into the camp so his mistress can make him another antidote tea.
Vin awakes to see that Elend is with her. He tells her that he is not king, and he reports that OreSeur, who was badly hurt in the fight, is currently digesting a new set of bones. Vin feels that Elend is now scared of her somehow because of the way she fought those allomancers. Vin goes back to sleep, and awakes to find Zane there. He accuses her, saying that she could have killed those attackers easily had she not been so distracted with protecting Elend and other innocents. Later, OreSeur visits Vin, in another dog’s body. They talk more about the Contract that binds all kandra. Vin uses brass and duralumin to push strongly on OreSeur’s emotions. Even though he at first does not react at all, with enough force, Vin hurts him very badly, and she felt like she were controlling him for a moment. She apologizes for hurting OreSeur, and he leaves to get some rest. Vin promise to never tell anyone what she’s discovered about kandra.
Sazed and Tindwyl continue to talk about the things they are learning. Something doesn’t make sense about the rubbings, written by Kwaan. It seems that Kwaan did not trust Alendi, but he also knew Alendi was a good man. But if Kwaan knew Alendi was good, why did he have his nephew, Rashek, to mislead or even kill Alendi? Elend comes in and asks for advice. After a discussion, he decides that being king isn’t about a title, but about doing something to help others. He returns to his closet and retrieves the white suite, the one made for a king.
Elend is hard at work, helping the people. He’s sending men out to dismantle the wooden parts of keeps and houses to use as firewood. The many refugees are cold and hungry, and he wants to help them. Someone comes with news that one of the gates under the river has been broken. That is how someone has been getting into the city and poisoning the wells. Also, other reports say that an Inquisitor is lurking about the city. Elend decides to go out and talk to Jastes, with the koloss army, himself. He rides out and meets Jastes, unable to make any kind of deal. On the way out, Elend manages to fight and kill one smaller koloss, earning the sword and pouch as his own. He looks into the pouch and discovers how Jastes is controlling the koloss. He’s paying them.
Vin sees Elend, now returned from his meet with the koloss army, inured and resting. Zanes comes and says that Cett was the one that planed the attack at the voting ceremony. Vin gets angry and decides to attack Cett. Zane and Vin attack the keep that Cett has been staying at in Luthadel. Together, they kill guards and hazekillers. Fueled by rage, Vin kills quickly, working her way to Cett’s room. She realizes that Zane is using atium, while she has none, and yet she’s killing just as easily as he is. They finally get to Cett’s room, where he is with his son. Vin fights them at first, but when she discovers that neither of them is an allomancer and that Cett doesn’t have a single allomancer with him, she leaves them behind, injured and scared.
The crew sees that Cett’s army is now leaving, a result of Vin’s attack on his keep the night before. Elend does not know why Vin attacked Cett like that. Some in the crew think she’s crazy, but Elend just sees her as determined. They also discover that the “coins” Jastes has been using to control the koloss are fake, wooden coins painted gold. Elend goes to find Vin, who is hiding in the city. He finds her with OreSeur’s help. She says she must leave Luthadel and go north, to Terris. Elend says he trust her to do the right thing. They have one large bead of atium, and Vin gives it to OreSeur to hold for her.
Sazed and Tindwyl compare notes, studying the rubbing and other references they’ve managed to find. Tindwyl admits that she doesn’t believe in these prophecies, her interest in them being purely academic. Sazed, on the other hand, thinks Vin might actually be the next Hero of the Ages. While they talk, they discover that someone–or something–has torn a piece from one of the transcription pages. Vin comes in, while they try to figure out at what point were they both gone or occupied to not have seen an intruder going through their things. Vin asks Sazed how she can know if she’s in love. They talk about trust. After Vin leaves, Elend comes in and starts asking similar questions. Elend thinks he and Vin are too different to make a couple, but Sazed says that, to him, they are more alike than they think. After Elend leaves, Sazed realizes that Luthadel is going to fall soon; he needs to get both Elend and Vin out of the city before that happens.
Sazed calls a meeting with the members of the crew: Dockson, Breeze, Ham, and Clubs. He doesn’t invite Elend, Vin, or Spook. They talk about how the city is sure to fall. Straff apparently is in no hurry to take Luthadel. Instead, he’ll back off and let the koloss attack the city first. The koloss will win and enter the city, pillaging as they go. Then, with the koloss weakened and tired from the fight, Venture will ride in like a hero and save the city, defeating the koloss and taking Luthadel for himself. Sazed says that Elend and Vin need to get out of the city before these things happen. He wants Spook and Tindwyl to go with them. The rest of the group will have to stay and fight and die. Meanwhile, Vin feels she must follow the drumming she hears all the time. In Straff’s camp, Zane is attacked by his father’s men. He defeats them, but spares his father. He leaves, saying that tonight he will take Vin with him and leave Luthadel. He tells Straff that he should wait for the koloss to attack and then take the city.
Vin is in her room with OreSeur when Zane visits. He wants her to come with him, but she says she can’t because she doesn’t want to leave Elend. When Zane sees that she won’t go, he attacks her. They fight. When Zane starts to burn atium, Vin asks OreSeur for the large bead, a bead Zan had given her before. OreSeur doesn’t respond to her command. Vin discovers that OreSeur is not OreSeur. He is TenSoon, Zane’s kandra. Of course! There was no other spy. The bones they found were TenSoon’s and he had killed OreSeur! Zane corners Vin, but Vin uses a massive soothing to take control of OreSeur/TenSoon and attack Zane from behind. She then cuts the bead of atium fro TenSoon. But this is another trick. The bead is lead, with only a thin layer of atium. Soon, Vin is left helpless against a Mistborn killer with atium. Vin decides that Zane can see what she’s about to do, or, rather, what she plans on doing. If she attacks without thinking, though, she can, see in Zane’s reaction what she is going to do, only to change it at the last possible second. The trick works, and Vin defeats Zane. After Zane dies, she thanks OreSeur/TenSoon for helping her win. His contract is void, and he must return to his people. Vin goes to find Elend.
Elend is in his study when Vin comes in, bloody from her fight with Zane. She tells him that she killed him. He calls for Sazed, who comes to help with the wounds. While she is there, on the ground, she asks Sazed if he knows any wedding ceremonies. Of course, he knows hundreds. Vin asks which one is the shortest, and Sazed recalls one that only requires a declaration of love between the bride and groom before an ordained witness. Vin and Elend both say that they love each other, and Sazed declares them married. The wounds are clean, and Sazed sends Vin to get some rest. He also gives them a fake map to find the Well of Ascension. If the couple follows the map, they’ll be gone from Luthadel for a long time.
Elend and Vin prepare to ride out of the city. Tindwyl decides to stay in Luthadel. Spooks gets ready to go, and Allrianne will ride out, at Breeze’s insistence. So the four of them ride out, Vin quickly having to fight pursuers from Straff’s army. Once they are free, Allrianne breaks off to find her father’s army. Meanwhile, some of the crew watch as the escape, now sure of their own coming doom. Straff Venture hears of the escapes, but he has problems of his own now. He’s getting sick, which he knows is the result of poisoning from his son, Zane. He sends for his mistress, Amaranta, to fix him an antidote, but he discovers that she isn’t preparing what she normally does. She is actually killing, as she has for a long time. There never was any poison. Zane never tried to kill his father. But Amaranta, in her constant fixing of teas for Straff, has been causing him to become addicted to a rare drug. Without that drug, Straff will die. Straff, in a rage, kills Amaranta and then swallows as much powder from her medicine cabnet as he can, hoping to accidentally swallow some of the drug he needs before he loses consciousness.
Allrianne has made her way to her father’s camp, with the help of some bandits she’s tamed with her rioting. Her father, Cett, is not happy to see her. She convinces him to go back and join the winning party in the battle that is to come, although Cett promises that will likely be Straff. Meanwhile, Elend wakes up on the third morning out of Luthadel. He and Vin share a tent now, and he finds himself surprisingly comfortable on the hard ground, with Vin next to him. They get up and prepare the fire. It’s just the three of them: Elend, Vin, and Spook. Meanwhile Straff wakes up in bed. His men have taken care of him, and they’ve isolated the plant he needs to stay alive. When he hears that Vin and Elend have left the city, the men ask if they should attack now. Straff says no; they should pull back and wait for the koloss. Sazed meets with the others to plan a strategy for when the koloss attack. They plan to have a group of men at each gate. Saze and Tindwyl get a little time together, but then the warning drums begin to beat.
Vin is thinking about how the mist is staying later and later every day, instead of just disappearing with dawn, when she feels the pulsing of the mist spirit coming from Elend’s tent. She runs in, just in time to see the outline of that spirit lift some kind of knife to attack Elend, who is sleeping on the ground. She attacks the spirit and it disappears. Elend wakes up and never knows what was happening. She leaves Elend to sleep a little more and goes out to speak with Spook. He thinks someone is following them. Meanwhile, Sazed and the crew get ready, since it looks like the Koloss are about to attack. Men are at each gate, with one crewmember there to help. Straff sees that the koloss are attacking, but he tells his men to wait. Vin and Elend attack the camp of people that have been following them. It turns out to be Jastes. He’s lost control of the koloss, so he just left them. Elend kills Jastes because of his crimes against Luthadel. Vin discovers that the drumming sounds are getting softer, meaning the well is to the south, in Luthadel, and not in the Terris mountains.
Breeze works at his assigned gate, soothing soldiers by the dozen, helping them to be brave and fight well. The koloss pound at the door, while men atop the wall rain arrows down on the attackers. The koloss throw rocks up in return, smashing archers. Meanwhile, Vin runs towards Luthadel, burning pewter. She knows she will run out of pewter long before reaching Luthadel, and she wonders if the effect will kill her. But still she keeps running. Breeze and Clubs talk while the koloss continue to beat the gate. They blame themselves for being stupid enough to be in this mess, and they blame Kelsier for getting them into such responsibilities. Just then, the gates burst open. Meanwhile, Sazed gets word that Breeze’s gate had fallen. He doesn’t think he can really help. He notices that there is a crowd of skaa standing behind the defense force. When Sazed confronts them, telling them that they should flee to safety inside the city, the skaa answer that they are there to witness the fall of the koloss at the hands of Vin, who they are sure will return and make her appearance at Sazed’s gate. Then the gate breaks. Sazed musters his stored strength, growing in size, and faces the lead koloss, shouting for the men to fight. Vin, half collapsing and out of pewter, reaching a small village. At first she thinks to ask for pewter, but then she remembers how she used to travel with Kelsier on a path of metal bars in the ground. She asks for horseshoes, using them to “walk” by leaping, placing horseshoes ahead of her and pulling the ones behind to place further. In this way, she uses the horseshoes like stilts to help her travel in the air.
Outside Luthadel, Straff Venture sees that the koloss have now broken into the city gates. His men are ready to attack the koloss from the rear, but Straff decides to wait longer. Sazed, fighting the koloss, realizes that they need to get the gate closed again in order to survive. Using strength and weight, he manages to fight off the koloss and get the gate closed again. While getting a little break, a messenger comes and says that Tindwyl’s gate fell over an hour ago. Meanwhile, Clubs and Breeze are attacked and forced to run. Clubs is killed, while Breeze hides in a building. Dockson contemplates the root of their failure. He attacks a koloss, only to be cut down. Straff decides not to swoop in a save the city while the koloss are weak. Instead, he’d rather wait for the koloss to kill everyone and burn the city. Then Straff will move in. Meanwhile, Sazed fights on, wondering what happened to Tindwyl. He feels he is going to die, but then Vin arrives and starts killing koloss. Breeze is found by Ham and some others. They want to try to escape.
Vin continues killing koloss, several at a time. Sazed, outside Lord Penrod’s keep, begs the newly appointed king to go with them as they try to escape. Penrod insists on staying inside his keep. Vin continues to fight the koloss, but now she is almost completely out of pewter, steel, and almost every other metal. In desperation, to save some skaa from certain death, she super-soothes them, like she’d done to TenSoon, controlling the koloss with her mind. Sazed is standing outside Penrod’s keep when Vin walks up with koloss in tow. She orders Penrod to gather his men and put out the fires in Luthadel. Vin will take care of the koloss throughout the city. Later, Sazed finds Tindwyl’s dead body among the slain soldiers. He feels that all the faith, all the religions, he has always treasured is now useless. His life, he believes, has been a sham.
Straff wakes up and takes a sample of the drug he needs to stay alive. He gathers his men, expecting to be able to take the city now. But the koloss come out with the remaining soldiers of Luthadel. Vin jumps from among the koloss, sailing through the sky with a giant sword, cleaving Straff and his horse in half on impact. Allrianne watches these events from her father’s camp. She charges after them to help Luthadel’s army, forcing her father and his men to ride after her. Straff’s army surrenders, and Janarle, Straff’s general, is named the new Lord of the Venture army. Janarle, Penrod, and Cett all swear loyalty to Elend as their Emperor. Vin, needing rest, leaves Sazed in charge of the Empire until Elend can return to Luthadel.