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David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants Hardcover – October 1, 2013
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*Starred Review* Gladwell’s best-sellers, such as The Tipping Point (2000) and Outliers (2008), have changed the way we think about sociological changes and the factors that contribute to high levels of success. Here he examines and challenges our concepts of “advantage” and “disadvantage” in a way that may seem intuitive to some and surprising to others. Beginning with the classic tale of David and Goliath and moving through history with figures such as Lawrence of Arabia and Martin Luther King Jr., Gladwell shows how, time and again, players labeled “underdog” use that status to their advantage and prevail through the elements of cunning and surprise. He also shows how certain academic “advantages,” such as getting into an Ivy League school, have downsides, in that being a “big fish in a small pond” at a less prestigious school can lead to greater confidence and a better chance of success in later life. Gladwell even promotes the idea of a “desirable difficulty,” such as dyslexia, a learning disability that causes much frustration for reading students but, at the same time, may force them to develop better listening and creative problem-solving skills. As usual, Gladwell presents his research in a fresh and easy-to-understand context, and he may have coined the catchphrase of the decade, “Use what you got.” --David Siegfried
"Truly intriguing and inspiring, especially when Gladwell discusses 'desirable difficulties'....Gladwell's account of the journey of Dr. Emil 'Jay' Freireich is unforgettable." ---Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times
"Provocative....David and Goliath is a lean, consuming read....The book's most crafty, engaging chapter ties together the Impressionist movement and college choices to highlight the fact that gaining admission to elite institutions, which we typically perceive as an advantage, is no guarantee of success." ---John Wilwol, San Francisco Chronicle
"As always, Gladwell's sweep is breathtaking and thought-provoking....I've long admired Gladwell's work." ---Joe Nocera, New York Times
"David and Goliath readers will travel with colorful characters who overcame great difficulties and learn fascinating facts about the Battle of Britain, cancer medicine and the struggle for civil rights, to name just a few topics upon which Mr. Gladwell's wide-ranging narrative touches. This is an entertaining book." ---Christopher F. Chabris, Wall Street Journal
"Fascinating....Gladwell is a master of synthesis. This perennially bestselling author prides himself on radical re-thinking and urges the rest of us to follow suit." ---Heller McAlpin, Washington Post
"What propels the book, like all of Gladwell's writing, is his intoxicating brand of storytelling. He is the master of mixing familiar elements with surprise counter-intuitions, and then seasoning with a sprinkling of scientific evidence....Gladwell is a master craftsman, an outlier amongst authors." ---Rob Brooks, Huffington Post
"Gladwell sells books by the millions because he is masterful at explaining how the world works---the power of critical mass, the arbitrariness of success, etc.---packaging his ideas in fun, accessible, and poignant vignettes." ---Lionel Beehner, USA Today
"Gladwell's most provocative book yet. David and Goliath challenges how we think about obstacles and disadvantages, drawing upon history, psychology, and powerful narrative talent to rethink how we view the world around us and how to deal with the challenges life throws at us." ---Susanne Jaffe, Columbus Dispatch
"The bestselling author behind the inventive Outliers, Blink, and The Tipping Point is back with another thought provoking theory that fascinates, entertains, and informs. He gives underdogs their due this time, challenging everything readers believe about facing-and conquering-life's stumbling blocks, using the 'real' story of David and Goliath and more to make his point." ---Celeste Williams, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"Gladwell has made a career out of questioning conventional wisdom, and here he examines the allegedly unlikely triumph of the weak over the mighty and shows it's not so unlikely after all. 4 stars." ---Judith Newman, People Magazine
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"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.
On the basis of similar supernatural foreknowledge, I predict the book will prove, in the tradition of his other bestsellers, very readable, but intellectually insubstantial. I'm not printing this prediction on the front of any books though and I'm modest enough to admit I could be wrong, pending an actual reading of the facts of the case.
Gladwell then tells that a study of wars involving one side at least 10X the size of another found the smaller opponent won 28.5% of the time. Surprising! More importantly, if one looked at warfare in which the underdog used unconventional tactics, those 'underdogs' won 64% of the time! (Think of the U.S. in Vietnam, Afghanistan.) Lawrence of Arabia succeeded against more numerous and better trained Turks by surprising his opponents and attacking from an unexpected side. Useful lessons, per Gladwell - We think of things as helpful that actually sometimes aren't, and other things as unhelpful that leave us stronger and wiser.
Gladwell then applies his thesis to the life of super-lawyer David Boies, a man from humble origins who now heads a firm of 200 lawyers - seemingly a Goliath himself. Boies secret advantage was being dyslexic, and attributes his success to that seeming impediment. (Others include Goldman Sachs' president - Gary Cohn, and Hollywood producer Brian Grazer.) However, Gladwell's 'real' backing for his claim is a 2009 survey that found much higher rates of dyslexia in entrepreneurs than corporate managers. But this self-reported survey included only 102 responders, Gary Cohn's position is that of manager - not entrepreneur, and dyslexics are also over-represented in prisons - seemingly contradicting Gladwell's thesis Gladwell then tries to worm his way out of this self-generated conundrum by citing an even smaller and non-generalizable study. And the thoughtful reader will also realize that David Boies is far more complex than simply someone with dyslexia - he also had very high SAT scores, per his autobiography. Taking Gladwell's point to the extreme, this means we needn't worry about poverty, prejudice, childhood traumas, etc. Readers are left with the sense that Gladwell really doesn't know what he's talking about - that he's just cherry-picking data and reports to suit his theories, a dangerous practice for any amateur in any field.
Previously, in 'Outliers,' Gladwell contended that 10,000 hours of practice was the essential requirement for excellence - a ridiculous claim. Taken at face-value, I supposedly could be a professional football star (at age 70), as well as a Nobel prize-winner in most any area if I just split 20,000 hours of practice between the two fields.
Then it's on to Caroline Sacks, high-school valedictorian who went to Brown University to obtain a science degree. Soon afterwards she barely flounders through organic chemistry, switched to another field, and concluded that if she'd gone to an easier school (University of Maryland) she'd still be in science. Okay, fifty years ago I might have successfully passed quantum physics at the local community college (definitely not at the University of Maryland) - is that supposed to mean that I had I done so I'd be string-theorist' today? Ridiculous.
Any trained scientist will tell you it's unacceptable to simply concoct hypotheses and then amass anecdotes to illustrate and support them. But that's all Gladwell does.
Bottom-Line: Gladwell should have quit at the end of his David and Goliath story.
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To hell with you!