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Read: Outliers

March 10th, 2009
Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell

Title: Outliers: The Story of Success
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Format: Kindle for iPhone

I bought this book to try out the Kindle application for the iPhone, and also I’m a fan of Gladwell’s other works ( The Tipping Point, Blink).  The hard bound version of this book weighs in at 320 pages, I mention this because the concept of a ‘page’ is somewhat fluid when you’re reading on a portable device. This review will mostly cover my experience with reading experience, and then I delve slightly into the content.

Overall the experience wasn’t bad.  The Kindle application allows the user to select from five font sizes, my eyes are good enough to make out the smallest font and read fairly comfortably, though I read most of the book at the second smallest font (one down from the default).  Page flips are a thumb drag gesture, so its easy to read one handed (a step up from a paperback that requires two hands to turn a page), rarely was there an inadvertant flip, but sometimes had to do the gesture twice because I didn’t use enough pressure.

One fault I found with the Kindle on iPhone (which is apparent in Outliers) is the size of footnote (which Malcom makes good use of and are fairly good reads in the middle of his prose) anchors required many attempts before being able to hit the mark (usually a * or +), while returning to the main story from the footnote was easy thanks to the “return to book” sized anchor.  While its probably more an artifact on how the publisher chose to insert the footnote, a larger anchor area would have been easier to navigate.

The other oddity was with some of the tabular data that is included in Outliers.  Gladwell uses tables in some parts of the book to show relations between dates and birthdays which are fairly well rendered, the Kindle makes columns that are wider than the page navigable via a scroll type functionality on the side bar of the page.  Readable, and for the purpose of the reading it was useable, pouring over the data to glean additional patterns wasn’t really a possiblity.  Again, this is on a very small screen, so this is expected, though being able to open a table viewer that can switch to a landscape mode would be neat, I’m not sure its required.

Which brings up another point, the reader is portait only, and flipping the phone to the side doesn’t change to landscape mode, because there isn’t a landscape mode.  I don’t have a problem with that, because in some situations, reading while lying on my side kept the orientation with my eyes, while an autochanging landscape mode (as in some other apps) would have flipped to landscape mid-sentence and been 90 degrees out for my eyes.

The justification for publications on the Kindle are up to the publisher, and Outliers was published with full justification (straight margins on both sides) which made it like reading a long thin column on a newspaper.  I find justified text fairly easy to read, but there are places where the word spacing was excessively large to make the justification work.  Not horrible, but noticeable here and there.

I read the book over the course of 3-4 days, in a variety of conditions, from completely dark room, to full daylight.  The screen brightness has to be changed outside of the Kindle application, which made for some pauses (don’t want to read a flashlight in my eyes, which is what normal brightness looked like in a dark room).  Full light wasn’t bad at all, the iPhone screen has good performance in daylight.  Best conditions was normal lighting and was very comfortable to read.  I read in different intervals, from a couple of minutes, to upto an hour, and didn’t experience horrible eyestrain.  (I have the joy of looking at LCD screens for the majority of my days at any rate, so reading on the smaller screen of the iPhone wasn’t horrible.  I have no experience with the Kindle’s eInk screen, so I can’t compare.

The nice feature was the ability to open the Kindle app and be returned to the page I left off.  Also reading a footnote then returning to the text was seamless, with one small caveat.  The return jump always had the starting anchor at the top of the screen which changed the position of the lines on the screen, which causes a bit of disorientation, but easily adapted to after understanding what happened.

All in all an enjoyable experience.  At $9.99 for the eBook, I saved ~$5 off the hardbound cover price.  I sort of wish there was a library or a half-price books for used eBooks, as I’m not sure I’ll return to this book over and over.  The content was interesting, but really not mind-blowingly relavatory.  Gladwell’s premise is that people we see as Outliers, people that achieve extraordinary success are often the recipients of inadvertant bias, luck, good timing, and earlier experience.  Sometimes I was left thinking that if everyone had the same experience as Bill Gates the world would be FULL of Bill Gates.  I’m not sure if that was what Gladwell was trying to express, but I disagree with that premise.  Sure, Bill Gates had some extremely lucky things happen to him early in life, but he also put in a lot of hard work and practice to get to the level of skill he showed at the beginning of the PC era.

Outliers is an interesting read, and some of the points made are pertainent to understanding how the world works, but not mind-blowingly relevant to living our lives.  Beyond working hard and making the most of opportunities.

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