The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw – I have read and own all the other books in the “Gladwell ecosystem”, and so searched eagerly for Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath, expecting nothing less than the fascinating signature mix of research, anecdotes, and interpretations that have helped us see life a little better, nudging us to look and see beyond the obvious.
Little David killed Goliath
Little David killed Goliath
Little David was a shepherd boy
He killed Goliath and shouted for joy, ‘Hey!’
Remember the nursery rhyme? The book takes off from the story of David and Goliath recorded in 1 Samuel 17 in the Bible. Traditionally, it is regarded by all as the triumph of the underdog in battle against the giant. Goliath was supposed to win, right? Wrong – that’s the core premise of David and Goliath. The author unveils a number of reasons taking his arguments from how battle was conducted in ancient times to Goliath’s physiology to the weirdness of the recorded live action of that battle. For example, why didn’t Goliath carry his own shield – why did he have a shield bearer if he was a foot soldier and not an archer? Again, why did Goliath say David was coming at him with sticks – plural (or staves as in KJV) when David only had his one shepherd stick with him? These and many more insights in the book will cause you to rethink your whole belief about that epic battle all over again.
The author pushes two main ideas in the book:
- Greatness and beauty arise from overcoming life’s overwhelming challenges.
- And that we habitually misinterpret the seemingly unfair conflicts between life’s threatening giants and the puny underdogs.
And so once again, Mazi Malcolm Gladwell (I call him that because his great-great-great-grandma was an Igbo woman from West Africa, possibly Nigeria) takes us on an adventure, exploring and discovering the world beyond tradition or popular opinion. In David and Goliath, he beckons us to take a closer look at the Goliath-types in life, be it in a real physical battle like the one David faced, or in events that threaten to overwhelm us, from personal to national level and to see that we can rise above these just like the numerous examples the author unveils to us in the book. Of course, Gladwell checks the other side too: an advantage will not always be an advantage. More money, for instance, will not continuously bring more happiness.
Giants do exist, but the advantage isn’t always with the quicker or stronger or bigger. A context exists where the very attribute regarded a strength becomes a gaping weakness. Expertise, clout, and strength do not guarantee good outcomes. Enactments of authority do not guarantee obedience.David and Goliath aims, as in the evergreen prescient tradition of Gladwell to nudge us, compel us, indeed help us think again of beliefs we have traditionally held onto in a new light. Context is everything. For example, the author tells us that a weakness can become a life-defining strength. Dyslexia, the reading disability, for instance, has become synonymous with entrepreneurial mega success. Familiar examples? Richard Branson of Virgin, John Chambers of Cisco, Ingvar Kamprad of Ikea. How is this possible?
The book is broken into three parts following a captivating introduction. Part One introduces us to “The Advantages of Disadvantages (And the Disadvantages of Advantages)”; Part Two unveils “The Theory of Desirable Difficulty”; and Part Three warns us against “The Limits of Power”. These sections explore stories about a unique basketball strategy, a rethink of university admission, compensation learning, the travails of The Impressionists against the Salon, and the continuous debate about the right classroom size in schools. You will also understand the relationship between money and parenting, one man’s crusade against leukemia, how Britons responded to Hitler’s bombings, and the Troubles of Northern Ireland.
I found the pace of the book flattening somewhat for me around the middle, but the author managed to round it all up, ending on a celebration of the strength of the human spirit that does even more for me than the author’s mission statement. I recommend this book very highly. If all you can do is to read the first 15 pages, you would already have found some precious gem to hold onto. However, I encourage you to read it through to the last page. At the end, it’s not a Goliath of a book – just 305 pages, and those include the notes and index.