In the tradition of Susan Cain's Quiet and Scott Stossel's My Age of Anxiety, Atlantic staff writer Olga Khazan reclaims the concept of "weird" and turns it into a badge of honor rather than a slur, showing how being different -- culturally, socially, physically, or mentally -- can actually be a person's greatest strength.
Most of us have at some point in our lives felt like an outsider, sometimes considering ourselves "too weird" to fit in. Growing up as a Russian immigrant in West Texas, Olga Khazan always felt there was something different about her. This feeling has permeated her life, and as she embarked on a science writing career, she realized there were psychological connections between this feeling of being an outsider and both her struggles and successes later in life. She decided to reach out to other people who were unique in their environments to see if they had experienced similar feelings of alienation, and if so, to learn how they overcame them. Weird is based on in-person interviews with many of these individuals, such as a woman who is professionally surrounded by men, a liberal in a conservative area, and a Muslim in a predominantly Christian town. In addition, it provides actionable insights based on interviews with dozens of experts and a review of hundreds of scientific studies.
Weird explores why it is that we crave conformity, how that affects people who are different, and what they can do about it. First, the book dives into the history of social norms and why some people hew to them more strictly than others. Next, Khazan explores the causes behind-and the consequences of-social rejection. She then reveals the hidden upsides to being "weird," as well as the strategies that people who are different might use in order to achieve success in a society that values normalcy. Finally, the book follows the trajectories of unique individuals who either decided to be among others just like them; to stay weird; or to dwell somewhere in between.
Combining Khazan's own story with those of others and with fascinating takeaways from cutting-edge psychology research, Weird reveals how successful individuals learned to embrace their weirdness, using it to their advantage.
Journalist Khazan debuts with a series of sharp, empathetic portraits of individuals who identify as weird and who faced obstacles yet found success. Khazan casts a wide net on who is considered weird, including those who go against expectations, those who are transgender or live outside of gender norms, and those with physical differences not considered "normal," such as dwarfism. Khazan taps into weirdness through stories of her upbringing as a Russian-Jewish immigrant in Bible Belt Texas and via interviews with people who are comfortable being different from their peers, writing with an eye toward sharing what her subjects can teach others, namely: "Being different from other people around you confers hidden advantages that can help you in life and work" such as providing novel perspectives and allowing outside-the-box innovation. She profiles race car driver Julia Landauer (whose outsider status as a woman proves both a hindrance and help) over the course of a season, sociology professor Beverly Stiles ("the liberal one" at a conservative university), and formerly Amish Emma Gingerich to exhibit how being an outsider can contribute to success. In a particularly memorable case, Khazan profiles Michele Roberts, a black woman who, in law school, was motivated by the prejudice of her professors to study harder than her peers to become a top litigator. These stories of people who revel in their weirdness provide a winning demonstration of the value of difference.