Malcolm Gladwell, the #1 bestselling author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, and What the Dog Saw, offers his most provocative---and dazzling---book yet.
Three thousand years ago on a battlefield in ancient Palestine, a shepherd boy felled a mighty warrior with nothing more than a stone and a sling, and ever since then the names of David and Goliath have stood for battles between underdogs and giants. David's victory was improbable and miraculous. He shouldn't have won.
Or should he have?
In David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell challenges how we think about obstacles and disadvantages, offering a new interpretation of what it means to be discriminated against, or cope with a disability, or lose a parent, or attend a mediocre school, or suffer from any number of other apparent setbacks.
Gladwell begins with the real story of what happened between the giant and the shepherd boy those many years ago. From there, David and Goliath examines Northern Ireland's Troubles, the minds of cancer researchers and civil rights leaders, murder and the high costs of revenge, and the dynamics of successful and unsuccessful classrooms---all to demonstrate how much of what is beautiful and important in the world arises from what looks like suffering and adversity.
In the tradition of Gladwell's previous bestsellers---The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers and What the Dog Saw---David and Goliath draws upon history, psychology, and powerful storytelling to reshape the way we think of the world around us.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
David and Goliath offers a provocative take on our cultural assumptions around power, influence, money, and even intelligence by examining why those attributes may not be the automatic advantages we often think they are. Through short vignettes and interviews, Gladwell identifies why some people succeed despite the odds, why others with immense resources struggle, and at what point bigger stops being better. Gladwell’s counterintuitive arguments are intentionally provocative—case in point, his theory that the children of the very rich are, in some ways, as disadvantaged as children raised in poverty—but he backs them up with admirable research. You can read this over a lazy weekend, but it leaves a lasting impression.
Interesting stories . . .
. . . but superficial analysis.
The D & G story sold me the book, and Gladwell's account of the Birmingham civil rights drive is eye-opening, but his banging-on about "inverted-U" relationships overlooks the fact that they explain nothing, that they're just a quasi-mathematical way to say "too much of a good thing" may not be so good.
What are the mechanisms that produce inverted-U relationships? Where do you see them and where not? The reasons why excessive rewards reduce motivation, and heavy-handed punishments fail to change behavior have been very we'll studied (and are very interesting).
Readable, but analysis and conclusions dubious
As always Gladwell tells entertaining stories, but at least in this book his analysis and the conclusions reached seem to be square pegs pounded into round holes. Everything after David and Goliath goes downhill.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Gladwell possesses a beautiful writing style that can pull you into any topic in a way, such that you never want to pull away. He applies that skill masterfully here in assessing the true nature of Strengths and Weaknesses. Navigating through different periods of history he dissects Paper Champions (Goliaths) who lost to or at least could not dissuade the Davids on the other side of the valley. Using the narratives of the overlooked stories of the voices history often forgets, Gladwell demonstrates three key phenomena that demonstrate how we often over estimate strengths and focus in too greatly on apparent weaknesses.
Without giving away spoilers, the three concepts I found most fascinating in this book were most importantly, our inability to see past advantageous and disadvantages on the surface. The tale of David and Goliath being the most prominent allegory of this dilema. The second key concept is the problem of the Inverted U-Shaped Curve. This problem illustrates how more is not often better and after a certain point does more harm than good; i.e. you cannot always just throw money and resources at the problem. Lastly, Gladwell does a great job detailing how Power / Leadership cannot succeed without Legitimacy. Moreover, that it cannot be won through brute force but must happen at the ground level, eye-to-eye.
Every time I read Gladwell, I feel like I am getting a MasterClass in history. Talking to Strangers remains my favorite of his books but they are all amazing in their own way. This one in particular is especially meaningful right now in 2020. The stories and perspectives in it may be the best guide on how to persevere and resist in the face of seemingly overwhelming circumstances.