Table of Contents

Introduction: The Roseto Mystery

"These people were dying of old age. That's it."

Part One: Opportunity

The Matthew Effect

"For 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." — Matthew 25:29

The 10,000-Hour Rule

"In Hamburg, we had to play for eight hours."

The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 1

"Knowledge of a boy's IQ is of little help if you are faced with a formful of clever boys."

The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 2

"After protracted negotiations, it was agreed that Robert would be put on probation."

The Three Lessons of Joe Flom

"Mary got a quarter."

Part Two: Legacy

Harlan, Kentucky

"Die like a man, like your brother did!"

The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes

"Captain, the weather radar has helped us a lot."

Rice Paddies and Math Tests

"No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich."

Marita's Bargain

"All my friends now are from KIP P."

Epilogue: A Jamaican Story

"If a progeny of young colored children is brought forth, these are emancipated."




The Roseto Mystery


out-li-er\-,li(-9)r\ noun something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body

a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample


Roseto Valfortore lies one hundred miles southeast of Rome in the Apennine foothills of the Italian province of Foggia. In the style of medieval villages, the town is organized around a large central square. Facing the square is the Palazzo Marchesale, the palace of the Saggese family, once the great landowner of those parts. An archway to one side leads to a church, the Madonna del Carmine—Our Lady of Mount Carmine. Narrow stone steps run up the hillside, flanked by closely clustered two-story stone houses with red-tile roofs.

For centuries, the paesani of Roseto worked in the marble quarries in the surrounding hills, or cultivated the fields in the terraced valley below, walking four and five miles down the mountain in the morning and then making the long journey back up the hill at night. Life was hard. The townsfolk were barely literate and desperately poor and without much hope for economic betterment until word reached Roseto at the end of the nineteenth century of the land of opportunity across the ocean.

In January of 1882, a group of eleven Rosetans—ten men and one boy—set sail for New York. They spent their first night in America sleeping on the floor of a tavern on Mulberry Street, in Manhattan's Little Italy. Then they ventured west, eventually finding jobs in a slate quarry ninety miles west of the city near the town of Bangor, Pennsylvania. The following year, fifteen Rosetans left Italy for America, and several members of that group ended up in Bangor as well, joining their compatriots in the slate quarry. Those immigrants, in turn, sent word back to Roseto about the promise of the New World, and soon one group of Rosetans after another packed their bags and headed for Pennsylvania, until the initial stream of immigrants became a flood. In 1894 alone, some twelve hundred Rosetans applied for passports to America, leaving entire streets of their old village abandoned.

The Rosetans began buying land on a rocky hillside connected to Bangor by a steep, rutted wagon path. They built closely clustered two-story stone houses with slate roofs on narrow streets running up and down the hillside. They built a church and called it Our Lady of Mount Carmel and named the main street, on which it stood, Garibaldi Avenue, after the great hero of Italian unification. In the beginning,