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3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but Lacking Scientific Rigor, October 3, 2013
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This review is from: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (Kindle Edition)
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

"David and Goliath" is an interesting yet somewhat disappointing book about what happens when ordinary people confront giants. Best-selling author, Malcolm Gladwell provides many examples that range from the compelling to the dare I say feeble. That being said, the book is stimulating and it's never boring, it just lacked the brilliance that a book like his very own "Outliers" has. This provocative 320-page book is broken out into the following three parts: 1. The Advantages of Disadvantages (and Disadvantages of Advantages), 2. The Theory of Desirable Difficulty, and 3. The Limits of Power.

1. Always engaging, provocative and a page turner. Gladwell is a gifted narrator.
2. Interesting subject, never boring. You never know what you are going to get from Gladwell. A great premise and title for a book, "David and Goliath".
3. Gladwell explores two main ideas through stories and keen observations. "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."
4. A recurring theme that resonates throughout the book, "There is an important lesson in that for battles with all kinds of giants. The powerful and the strong are not always what they seem."
5. I absolutely loved the story of Vivek Ranadive's basketball team and where Pitino's trademark strategy came from. "The whole Redwood City philosophy was based on a willingness to try harder than anyone else."
6. The provocative discussion on the correlation of class sizes and educational success. Interesting angles (the concept of the inverted-U curve) and great water cooler material regardless on which side you fall on.
7. The concept of it is better to be a Big Fish in a Little Pond than a Little Fish in a Big Pond. "The phenomenon of relative deprivation applied to education is called--appropriately enough--the `Big Fish-Little Pond Effect.' The more elite an educational institution is, the worse students feel about their own academic abilities." Interesting findings that resulted from this observation.
8. An interesting look at dyslexia. "Dyslexia is a problem in the way people hear and manipulate sounds." This is where Gladwell goes into his theory of "desirable difficulties" and provides many examples of stories of success and overcoming challenges. The case of trial lawyer David Boies is one of overcoming the odds and making the most of his challenges.
9. Measuring personality through the Five Factor Model ("Big Five").
10. I enjoy historical references and this book offers a couple of intriguing stories. The "London Blitz".
11. Gladwell loves patterns and he has made it a trademark to share some of his favorites. "Twelve of the first forty-four U.S. presidents--beginning with George Washington and going all the way up to Barack Obama--lost their fathers while they were young."
12. A fascinating medical case study involving Jay Freireich and leukemia.
13. Case studies involving courage. The American civil rights movement. The fascinating story behind the iconic photograph (calm teenage boy being attacked by a snarling German shepherd) that captured the impetus of the historical movement.
14. The use of trickery, the art of survival and triumph even in the most hostile of environments.
15. The incendiary case study of Northern Ireland. "In Northern Ireland, the British made a simple mistake. They fell into the trap of believing that because they had resources, weapons, soldiers, and experience that dwarfed those of the insurgent elements that they were trying to contain, it did not matter what the people of Northern Ireland thought of them."
16. The principal of legitimacy. "Legitimacy is based on three things. First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice--that if they speak up, they will be heard. Second, the law has to be predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today. And third, the authority has to be fair. It can't treat one group differently from another."
17. The uplifting case of Jaffe and J-RIPpers.
18. The inception of the Three Strike rule and its shortcomings. "Clearly, then, there's a big difference between having no penalties for breaking the law and having some penalties--just as there's a big difference between a class of forty students and a class of twenty-five. On the left side of the inverted-U curve, interventions make a difference."
19. Understanding the limits of power. The case study of the Huguenots.
20. Notes linked.

1. No links to original sources.
2. No formal bibliography.
3. Lacks scientific rigor or depth. Gladwell mainly presents his side of the story and at times suffers from confirmation bias. It's ok to present opposing scientific views while defending your own.
4. I really have a tough time buying the notion that people succeed because of their difficulties, "The second, more intriguing, possibility is that they succeeded, in part, because of their disorder--that they learned something in their struggle that proved to be of enormous advantage." I look at it as overcoming challenges, making the best of what you have.
5. Some of the case studies are not for the faint of heart. The Candace Derksen story was particularly painful and difficult to read.
6. A misspell in the table of contents.

In summary, Gladwell's books are always provocative and fun to read. The biggest problem for Gladwell is to live up to expectations set by a book of the caliber of "Outliers" and frankly whether fair or not this book doesn't live up to it. It lacks panache and most importantly scientific rigor. That being said this book has moments of radiance and he always manages to entertain. Perhaps 3 stars is a bit low but rest assured all of Gladwell's books are worth reading. In short, this book will provide great water cooler material, read it and make your own call.

Further recommendations: "Outliers: The Story of Success", "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference", and "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" by the same author, "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" by Daniel H. Pink, "Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard" and "Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die" by Chip and Dan Heath, "The One Thing" by Gary Keller, "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain, "Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success" by Rick Newman, "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhig, "What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets" by Michael J. Sandel, "Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain" by David Eagleman, and "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined" by Steven Pinker.
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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 3, 2013 4:31:43 PM PDT
seina says:
Thanks for taking your time to write this useful review. I will take a look at the books that you have recommended.

Posted on Oct 3, 2013 4:57:47 PM PDT
Jeffrey L says:
Really nice review, thanks for writing it. Assuming this book follows Gladwell's others, I definitely know what you mean. Few writers can get you thinking or entertain in the way Gladwell does but the thesis often seems overstated and at times overly simplistic (and occasionally wrong). I truly appreciate Gladwell for the way he introduces me to new ideas and topics, and for how much he gets me to think (as well as the references to people or books... I usually find myself buying books from people whose research he references, whether it be Jon Gottman, Timothy Wilson or Geert Hofstede) but to take the conclusions at face value is probably not recommended.

I appreciate the recommendation list as well. I've read many of them but there's a number I have not.


Posted on Oct 4, 2013 3:06:24 AM PDT
Eric Chaffee says:
Good review. I arrived here after reading a mainstream review, here:
theguardian [døtcøm] /books/2013/oct/02/david-goliath-malcolm-gladwell-review . Many thanks to both of you reviewers. I'll order it.

Posted on Oct 7, 2013 10:53:03 AM PDT
U.R. says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Oct 10, 2013 5:41:39 PM PDT
phileana says:
A really excellent and informative review. Thank you! I especially appreciated the bibliography.

Posted on Oct 11, 2013 3:52:30 AM PDT
taygete says:
Really appreciated the thoroughness of your review, and enjoyed each tidbit of insight as though it were it's own book. Maybe you should become an author? Really a good experience to read your review. Thanks for all the time you put in, much appreciated!

Posted on Oct 22, 2013 4:08:03 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 22, 2013 4:09:37 AM PDT
~Mary says:
While your review is extensive and enlightening, I disagree that a misspelling is a "negative". I have edited many manuscripts and know that job falls on the shoulders of an editor and is not a content deficiency. I have never read a book that was perfectly edited and printed. There are always errors. Always.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 23, 2013 5:48:44 AM PDT
Book Shark says:
Thanks for your constructive comment Mary,

I consider one misspell in the Table of Contents to be a very minor infraction and doesn't carry the weight of say lack of scientific rigor. As an engineer (we are notoriously poor spellers) I do value a good editor. It's clearly nitpicking and perhaps even an ashamedly badge of honor for an engineer like myself to have caught that from a book that clearly does not lack production value.

For the record, I'm a big fan of Mr. Gladwell, I have read and reviewed four of his five books. I found this book in general to lack the panache of "Outliers" but I would still recommend it.

The only thing I can say for certain is that I didn't penalize this book for that one and only misspell I caught by luck but because of its contents and for not meeting my lofty expectations of an author of Mr. Gladwell's standing.

Posted on Oct 31, 2013 3:01:59 PM PDT
DebL says:
Wonderful and seemingly balanced review. Very helpful. I have decided to buy this book for my father for Christmas. Thank you.

Posted on Nov 17, 2013 9:36:22 PM PST
great review
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Location: Maryland, USA

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