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If you forget that the world's a very cruel place, this book will remind you of it
on June 29, 2014
I've always been a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell books. How he finds seemingly disconnected topics and expands and juxtaposes them to find a common theme and learning without inserting himself too much into the middle. Sure, I've heard the criticism over the years about his surface treatments ... getting into the topic just enough but perhaps not as deeply as it deserved. You see quite a few of those criticisms for this book.
This time around I kind of agree with some of that criticism. "David & Goliath" still follows that same pattern but somehow it's all a bit too formulaic. The underdog topic that's kicked off in the beginning is guaranteed to catch the readers' interest and to sell more books, but it really doesn't carry through into the rest of the book. Who wouldn't root for David to carry the day. But then the shocker in that story--which is carried through the rest of the book ... Goliath really didn't stand a chance like the proverbial fool who brings a knife (or in this case a spear) to a gunfight (or in this case a 135 mile per hour pebble launched from a sling).
From there we see that a wide variety of seemingly disconnected topics about underdogs or assumptions about power and advantage follow that same premise. That things we see as advantages or disadvantages really aren't ... like smaller class sizes, going to Ivy League schools, having dyslexia, being militarily weak, having a bad childhood, losing a parent when young. All of these serve to make later achievers stronger, more creative and--most of all--disagreeable, which turns them into household names. Gladwell continues to do the deal with these stories by making them interesting and compelling, but it all gets a bit tedious as he continually lists them side by side to repeatedly make the same points.
As inspirational as these stories are, there are certainly legions of achievers who didn't suffer those disadvantages and still accomplished great things in their lives. So the message and readership for this book should perhaps be focused on people whose prospects appear diminished so they they don't give up in the face of adversity. For the rest, the stories and life lessons are so negative that the book fails to elevate us to bigger and better things.
As other reviewers pointed out too, it felt like the third part of the book that focuses on how authority fails when seen as illegitimate seemed a big jump from what Gladwell seemed to be targeting in the first two parts. It was almost like his editor or publisher had to encourage him to add more. And in so doing he failed to drive home the more important points he had established up front. And so the book just ends. I don't feel elevated as I did when I completed "The Tipping Point," "Blink" or Outliers." I just felt depressed that the world is such a nasty place and it presumably requires a poor childhood to rise above it all.