David and Goliath

davidandgoliathWritten by Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath is the newest book to come from Malcolm Gladwell, who is a well-known writer for The New Yorker and the best-selling author of such books as The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers. I was very excited for this book to come out since I have read most of Gladwell’s other books and thoroughly enjoyed them and I picked it up as soon as I could. The premise of the book intrigued me and is clearly revealed in the subtitle of this work, which is “Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.”

Gladwell begins his book by reviewing the story of David and Goliath from the Bible. He talks about how some of the weaknesses we perceive in David (the little guy) might actually be considered advantages and what we might think of as strengths in Goliath (the big guy) may in reality be disadvantages. It is an interesting concept indeed. He then goes on to give accounts about other situations in which people who were in what might have been considered positions of weakness are able to overcome and succeed in their circumstances despite, or even because of, their challenges.

Gladwell says in the first chapter of his book, “Each chapter tells the story of a different person—famous or unknown, ordinary or brilliant—who has faced an outsize challenge and been forced to respond. Should I play by the rules or follow my own instincts? Shall I persevere or give up? Should I strike back or forgive? Through these stories, I want to explore two ideas. The first is that much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty. And second, that we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate, and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.”

Gladwell gives many examples of overcoming difficult odds in his book. One such example is David Boies who struggled with dyslexia his whole life and consequently, had a difficult time in school. In spite of that fact, he became a brilliant trial lawyer. Working as a lawyer relies heavily on reading and writing statements for trial and this was a hard task for someone who could not read well or quickly. Because he had a hard time with reading, Boies had to learn different strategies and shortcuts to get around this challenge. He learned to memorize information as he listened to it so that he did not have to rely on his reading skills and he chose an area of law (litigation) that required him to listen to testimony and ask questions instead of doing a lot of reading. Gladwell uses this as a lesson saying, “Most people with a serious disability cannot master all those steps. But those who can are better off than they would have been otherwise, because what is learned out of necessity is inevitably more powerful than the learning that comes easily.”

Another example that Gladwell gives is about how when selecting a college to attend it is sometimes an advantage to pick the college that may not be as highly-ranked, but going to one that is sort of middle-of the-road. He argues that you might be more successful being a big fish in a little pond rather than the bottom of the totem pole in a very elite university. I found this to be a very interesting idea.

Gladwell also talks about courage in this book. He mentions that one of the things people can gain from facing hardships is courage. He says, “Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.”

This book has a lot of very insightful and intriguing ideas in it. It is a fast, easy and engaging read and I would highly recommend it to anyone to gain new perspective and consider new ideas.

Review by Rachelle Funk, Skyline High School Media Center
Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Interest Level: 8th-12th grades

David and Goliath
Written by Malcolm Gladwell
Little, Brown and Company
305 pages
Release Date: October 1, 2013
ISBN: 9780316204361 (hardcover)

Categories: High School – Nonfiction
Tags: nonfiction,self-development, psychology

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