Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: A nonfiction contender for 2020-21

Thinking ahead to new class sets for next year

Nonfiction is definitely my thing. Yes, I love novels and short stories, but nonfiction really captivates me. And I guess it’s because I truly believe that life is stranger than fiction. As a result, I’m starting to consider which nonfiction books I’d like to requisition for 2020-2021.

Here are my top three nonfiction choices (as of today, but let’s be real, this may change over the next month or so): Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Written by Himself, and Manhunt by James Swanson.  In this post, I discuss Outliers.

Pictured above, Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, presents an honest look at success and how it is achieved. I’m reading about six pages at a time to my elective composition class as a starter activity. My plan is to read through chapter two, and then assess whether to order for next year.

PEN American Center [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

My students, mainly juniors and seniors, are engaged with the ideas in the book. Based on their written responses to some text-based questions, I know they are not only engaged, but are absorbing, considering, and applying the ideas.

Here are a few interesting lines from the 285-page book:

“In Outliers, I want to convince you that these kinds of personal explanations of success don’t work. People don’t rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.”

Gladwell presents the arresting argument that success has less to do with ambition and intelligence and more to do with culture, family, and one’s upbringing. In the first chapters, by examining the birth dates of Canadian hockey players, Gladwell shows readers proof that there is more to success than hard work and talent.

These concepts caught a few of my students off guard quite honestly, and it goes against many extolled views about success.

The book is divided into two sections:

  • Part One: Opportunity
  • Part Two: Legacy

Within these two parts, Gladwell discusses commonly held beliefs about success and then follows that up with specific stories of outliers… “people whose achievements fall outside normal experience,” according to the back cover copy.

In addition to a reading guide and nine discussion questions in the back of the book, there are several Outliers products on Teachers Pay Teachers that I may or may not utilize. I would like to create some of my own materials for this book, but that will obviously happen after I make my decision to order it or not.

And, of course, the jury’s still out on Outliers; however, I’m thinking I’ll probably give this book the go-ahead next month when we start filling out those precious requisition forms.

Have you ever taught Outliers? Thoughts? Suggestions? Feel free to leave a comment!

Thanks for reading again this week! I’ll be focusing on Douglass and Manhunt in some upcoming posts. And, of course, I also plan to requisition some new fiction. I’ll post soon on those as well. Follow my blog to catch these future posts!

Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

6 thoughts on “Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: A nonfiction contender for 2020-21

  1. I’ve never taught Outliers, but I read it last year (my first experience with an entire text of Gladwell’s) and was impressed at how easy to understand yet profound the writing was. Throughout my reading, I kept thinking how great these chapters would be to teach to my junior class. I don’t have any ideas for you, but I would interested in hearing how you end up using it (if it all) in your classes.

    1. Yes, his writing is accessible and, like you said, “profound.” I’ll let you know how it goes! Thanks for commenting and I hope your second semester is chugging along well!

  2. A few years ago, I started alternating reading a nonfiction book with a fiction book. Outliers was one of my reads last year. I loved it and read Blink not long after. He’s engaging and his words often came back to me days later.

    1. Thanks for commenting! Just wondering what some of your fiction go-with books were? Did you read these concurrently or one and then the other? Interesting idea!

      1. It varies widely. Currely reading 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Just finished My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing. Before that – Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.

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