The one-sentence summary

Context is absolutely crucial: what appears to be a reason for something rarely is.


  • OUTLIERSWhen we try to understand success, we normally start with the wrong question. We ask What is the person like? when we should really ask Where are they from?
  • The real secret of success turns out to be surprisingly simple, and it hinges on a few crucial twists in people’s life stories – on the culture they grow up in and the way they spend their time.
  • An outlier is a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others in the sample – tiny influences have made certain people ‘special’.
  • Opportunity is the first crucial element of being successful at anything. Legacy is the second – behaviour handed down over many generations that dictates the way people react to circumstances.
  • Countries with subservient cultures have pilots involved in more plane crashes because the co-pilots do not impose on their superiors – sometimes not even making emergencies evident to air traffic control.
  • Easterners have a stronger work ethic and so are better at maths because they are used to taking a lot of time to solve problems.


  • Top sportsmen are born at the beginning of the year. As youngsters they start a little bigger, and then they are given the best training and the most practice.
  • The 10,000-hour rule shows that the best in any field have exceeded this amount of practice –which means that those who start late at something do not usually achieve the very best.
  • Studies show that social class has nothing to do with intelligence –until the ability to study, revise, or practice starts to disadvantage those less privileged.
  • Fans of determinism will approve of this book, since it verifies that your success is determined by where you come from and what happens on the way.


  • This is not an academic book. It is more a series of interesting anecdotes that make a general point.
  • Although it challenges you to make the most of your own potential, in practice the reader cannot change their circumstances, time of birth, where they come from, or any other major factors other than pure hard work.
  • The first half of the book (Opportunity) explains the origin of outliers. The second half (Legacy) seems barely related to it – it is more an explanation of cultural differences.