- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1 edition (April 7, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316204374
- ISBN-13: 978-0316204378
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3,059 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants 1st Edition
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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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"Truly intriguing and inspiring."―Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times
"Provocative....David and Goliath is a lean, consuming read."―John Wilwol, San Francisco Chronicle
"As always, Gladwell's sweep is breathtaking and thought-provoking."―Joe Nocera, New York Times
"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'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
"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
"Engrossing.... Gladwell's singular gift is animating the experience of his subjects. He has an uncanny ability to simplify without being simplistic: clean and vivid Strunk and White prose in the service of peerless storytelling."―David Takami, Seattle Times
"Contemporary society can't escape history when Malcolm Gladwell explains the world as he does with David and Goliath."―Jane Henderson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"In David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell explores the dynamics that inform and effect our everyday lives. By analyzing the Biblical account of the clash between David and Goliath, Gladwell presents a bold new interpretation of the lessons we should apply from it."―Today Show
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Top Customer Reviews
"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.
The book is broken down into three parts. The first part explores the concept of disadvantages that latter manifest themselves as hidden strengths. The author explores how a girls middle school basketball team was able to win the Little League basketball championship despite having a team of first time basketball players coached by an Indian immigrant who was unfamiliar with the game. There is also a fascinating part dedicated to showing how second rate scholars at first rate universities are at a disadvantage when compared to first rate scholars at second rate universities.
The second part focus more so on particular people and on their "desirable difficulties." You learn about a dyslexic who uses his disorder as a point of strength in his profession as a trial lawyer and of another who does the same in Hollywood. Gladwell then describes the life of Jay Freireich, a pioneer in the treatment of cancer and use of chemotherapy, as an example of someone who persisted through traumatic events in his childhood to accomplish something great in his life. The fundamental message being here that people who overcome these "desirable difficulties" develop inner strength that helps them to persist onward through the future challenges that life will throw there way.
The third part discusses the limits of power. It was my favorite. Gladwell discusses the limits of power that large institutions have on minority groups. You see through the eyes of characters from both sides of the spectrum. Those that are being oppressed by the higher power and those that are committing the act of oppression. Gladwell's narrative does a good job of clearly demonstrating that the reality that people experience in life cannot be changed by brute, domineering force. A better way would be to understand where this group is coming from and working within their framework of understanding to guide them into making the right decisions in life. A great example is made by the author through demonstrating the catastrophic mistake made by Leon Goure and ultimately Lyndon B Johnson in choosing to bomb Vietnam.
My main problem with the book is how Gladwell often times frames his stories in order to be consistent with his narrative. He does provide some disclaimer that a lot of the examples he used of people with "desirable difficulties" were people who were fortunate to overcome their unfortunate standing in life but I think he fails to resoundingly capture the fact that an overwhelming majority of people with disorders or traumatic events in their childhood are polarized by the experience and have difficulty recovering and leading what many of us would consider "normal" lives.
Another problem with this book is that Gladwell commits some blatant factual errors in telling him stories. For example, in one part he compared post-WWII Poland to modern day North Korea. As someone who was raised by two parents who grew up in this country and witnessed it first hand I can tell you that this far from the truth. My father, an Econ major, routinely argued with his Communist professors over the merits of Capitalism and guess what...he was not shipped to a labor camp and was actually allowed to graduate (although with probably weaker marks than if he had kept his mouth shut). Sure, the country was poor, oppressed by the Soviet ruling power, and offered its citizens little hope for the future, but by no means was it modern day North Korea. So when Gladwell discusses Ingvar Kamprad's radical value proposition by producing furniture in Poland it is more so akin to US conglomerates choosing to manufacture their sneakers in China in the 1980s. And if Gladwell made this sort of hyperbole when discussing this particular story, how am I supposed to buy into the things that he says on topics I am less knowledgeable about?
Overall, this is typical Gladwell. It is a fun book to read with some entertaining stories in it and one central idea that binds it all together, but revolutionary it is not.