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David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants Paperback – April 7, 2015
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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 Preloaded Digital Audio Player 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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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 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.
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!