Adult Books for Teens: “Blink” and “Outliers”
Malcolm Gladwell, the author of both Blink and Outliers, always has a fun way of looking at research and what it tells him about real life. His books are generally bestsellers, and teachers often mention these two titles when they say they’d like to see their students reading current (and interesting) nonfiction.
Blink is a book that analyzes the way people make snap decisions. Are snap decisions ever right—after all, what logical reason does one have for liking or disliking someone s/he just met? What about choosing a political candidate? We make snap decisions all the time because we don’t always have the time to research the subject, or we don’t care enough about it to research it, or we really don’t have access to any valuable information.
Surprisingly, according to Gladwell’s evidence (some research, many anecdotes), people who can quickly eliminate useless information and make snap decisions can do a good job most of the time. Most of us have experienced this on a personal level—you don’t like someone who you think is trying to use you, who isn’t a real friend, but you decide not to make a snap judgment—and live to regret it. Gladwell shows that these decisions aren’t always based on prejudice, but can be rapidly processed out of past experience. Examples include an art dealer who is able to glance at a work of art and declare it a fake. Interesting outcomes include why speed dating might even work.
Gladwell takes what we call intuition and shows that it is grounded in knowledge. The many cases and examples he gives are what make the book fascinating. Of course, people do make very bad snap decisions, sometimes tragic ones, as when emergency-room patients are misdiagnosed or the police shoot an innocent man. Gladwell shows that we can all make better instant decisions by training our minds to focus on what’s relevant—which means that more information isn’t always better.
Outliers is about those people who are absolutely fantastic at what they do. It discusses how the guys in The Beatles became so famous and so creative (talent, yes, but also practice, practice, practice); how boys become the world’s greatest hockey players (they were born in the right month); how and why geniuses either have better academic performance or don’t; why business people are hugely successful or not (culture and unique skills); and how just about any other type of ‘outlier’ you can think of becomes an outlier.
Gladwell concludes what many folks have figured out—that circumstances such as culture and support can make the difference between success and failure. We’ve often read about superstars who were in the right place at the right time. Gladwell shows that this is also true of other successful people, such as Bill Gates, whose junior high school had one of the most powerful computers in the world, and the students had ample opportunity to use it.
Still, Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule—that to become an outlier, you will need about 10,000 hours of practicing what you do—is a hopeful idea for everyone. If you want to be a rock star, yes, you need talent. But go practice, go play in small venues for 10,000 hours. You could find yourself at the top of the musical world—if circumstances are right and the planets align. Same for scholarship—you want to succeed in school? Study a lot. Most of the best of the best in every discipline work at it for a long, long time. And if the planets don’t align and you don’t become an outlier? Well, you may find that just having a passion for the discipline or subject is reward enough.
Other Gladwell books are entertaining and informative as well. Several teachers also mention enjoying The Tipping Point. I really enjoyed Gladwell’s book of essays What the Dog Saw. I read that Gladwell made a name for himself in pioneering “the book that illuminates secret patterns behind everyday phenomena” (Publisher’s Weekly). It’s fun to see how Gladwell views things and discovers patterns.