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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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Book Summary: The author points out stories of inspiration to encourage people to overcome difficulties or adversity. The author also strongly cautions taking on too much adversity as the result may be the opposite of what is intended. The thesis of the book would be, "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" (Kindle, 48). The author successfully attributes narratives throughout the book to make these points seem real. The narratives also tug at one's heartstrings in a way that makes the objective of the story become vivid. Gladwell further evidences his point by offering simple examples such as a U-curve so that individuals may understand the tipping point as best as possible between various scenarios.
One of the best stories in the book related to this tipping point was of a student who attended Harvard for a degree in science. While this student was in the 99th percentile in the world for her brilliance, the constant comparing of herself to other "smarter" students ended up holding her back. Had she gone to a school with a slightly less competitive nature, she would have excelled. Gladwell comments, "We compare ourselves to those in the same situation as ourselves" (Kindle, 869). Gladwell does well with this because while many book about inspiration focus purely on the positive aspect of life, few are able to caution the opposite effect that may result from too much positivity (positivity used loosely here). "What matters, in determining the likelihood of getting a science degree, is not just how smart you are. It’s how smart you feel relative to the other people in your classroom" (Kindle, 922).
While Gladwell started this book well, with stories and points being made precisely and clearly, the book does not end that way. As you read past the first few chapters, the stories become longer and it takes away from the points being made clearly. This is a good and a bad thing all at once. The way the stories are written, they are engaging, making you feel like you're reading a historical novel. However, when one becomes too engrossed in the stories, and the points are made in only a sentence or two out of several pages of story, the points being made seem to lose their effect.
The points made hold a solidarity to them. For example, it is difficult to argue the fact that too much or too little of anything can be both good and bad. Gladwell references the U-curve (shaped like a parabola) in the first few chapters stating that the perfect point between good and bad is at the tip of the U, going beyond that will see minimal results, going less than that point will demonstrate a lack of results. As nearly everything in this world is a binary, this is a difficult point to argue because it holds true in almost every situation (I can't think of a situation where it does not). The beauty of the discussion, however, is not in the inability to argue the points being made, rather it is in the simplicity that it is explained. Gladwell takes what may be a very difficult concept and explains it in a way that nearly every person may understand.
Ultimately, I would recommend this book. The self-development and psychological factors are well-presented. If you are a person who does not enjoy stories, read the first several chapters then skim the rest of the book. The truths that are recognized in this text are basic truths that every person may benefit from learning or becoming aware of.
The two main points I took away from this book:
•too much of any good thing will lead to a bad thing (and vice versa).
•I would much rather be a big fish in a small pond than be a small fish in a large pond.
^Read the book to find out why. I recommend this for anyone.
SUMMARY: If you like Nonfiction, Sociology, Psychology, & unique theories/perspectives with facts to support them but written in a colloquial way that is entertaining & easy to understand then you'll LOVE this book!
The title story is interesting, but I think the author would like for readers to be surprised by David's skill and ability. Most of what he writes about David will be pretty familiar to Christians who have been actively studied the Bible. Certainly nothing he said about David and/or Goliath was controversial, and most of it could be gleaned from the notes in a good Study Bible.
The stories that follow in the first section, and even the second section, are also interesting. It's thought-provoking to consider that a perceived disadvantage might spur a person on to do exceptional things. As the book continues on, the stories are less exceptional, and the premise less exciting.
For me, the book failed on three counts:
1. The stories used to illustrate Gladwell's point failed to consider the negative side. Yes, a percentage of people when faced with adversity overcome it, however, an overwhelming majority suffer greatly. For every successful businessperson with a learning disability, there are several more who are in menial jobs. The same is true of most of all the other examples in the book.
2. The examples given in the third section of the book were simply not compelling. Maybe an interesting newspaper or magazine article, but not compelling on a "Gladwell-ian" scale.
3. The author failed to connect the examples given into an obvious conclusion, and no effort was given to purport one for the reader. Maybe the weakness of the last section was the cause of this, but after I put the book down, my only thought was, "so what?"
Gladwell is still a fine story-teller, and I think he was on to something good here. It just didn't come together like it might have. If you're considering this book because you've heard about Malcolm Gladwell and this is his newest offering, I'd suggest reading Outliers or Tipping Point instead.