David and Goliath

Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

Gladwell, Malcolm

Book - 2013
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
David and Goliath
This book uncovers the hidden rules that shape the balance between the weak and the mighty and the powerful and the dispossessed. In it the author challenges how we think about obstacles and disadvantages, offering a new interpretation of what it means to be discriminated against, or cope with a disability, or lose a parent, or attend a mediocre school, or suffer from any number of other apparent setbacks. He begins with the real story of what happened between the giant and the shepherd boy (David and Goliath) those many years ago. From there, the book examines Northern Ireland's Troubles, the minds of cancer researchers and civil rights leaders, murder and the high costs of revenge, and the dynamics of successful and unsuccessful classrooms, all to demonstrate how much of what is beautiful and important in the world arises from what looks like suffering and adversity. -- From book jacket.

Publisher: New York :, Little, Brown and Company,, [2013]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780316204361
Characteristics: ix, 305 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm


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Feb 04, 2015
  • jmikesmith rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

David and Goliath is Malcolm Gladwell's latest work. It's about underdogs and how they may not be as weak and over-matched as we might at first think. I found this book to be less engrossing than Gladwell's earlier works, such as Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking or Outliers: The Story of Success, but it does still make you think about power struggles and how the weaker side can sometimes come out on top.

In the first part of the book, Gladwell examines how what we think are disadvantages in power struggles (or, more generally, in life) may not be as detrimental they seem. Part Two explores the idea that suffering adversity early in life forces you to "think outside the box" and take chances that people who are more comfortable might not contemplate. In Part Three, Gladwell looks at how the use of power (such as legal authority) to control others may work up to a point, but when the use of power becomes excessive, it forces the weak to innovate and rebel.

Each chapter profiles an individual whose struggle illustrates the point Gladwell is trying to make. We learn about a girls basketball coach who uses unconventional tactics to beat better teams. We learn how individuals and groups of citizens who fought back against various forms of overbearing state authority (in, for example, the Troubles of Northern Ireland, the American civil rights movement, and Vichy France). We learn of people with learning disabilities or deprived childhoods who learned to use what strengths they did have to persevere and achieve significant professional success.

The basic points seem to be that more is better (as in, more intelligence, more money, more power, more strength, more skill, more teachers per student, etc.), but only up to a point. Beyond that point, those qualities may actually become disadvantages. Also, when you start out with less of these qualities, you must be flexible and willing to experiment with other ways to achieve your aims against opponents with more resources.

On the whole, these do not seem like new insights, although Gladwell presents his arguments persuasively and with his usual style, which is engaging and very readable. While David can win sometimes, it's not clear that he will always win, nor is it certain, in Gladwell's telling, that he should.

Dec 30, 2014
  • Palomino rated this: 2 stars out of 5.

Meh. Many intelligent ideas, many boring ones, doesn't hold together as a book at all. The David/Goliath example is really the best essay in the book.

Nov 03, 2014
  • duane767 rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Started off slow and plodding for me but really picked up halfway through the book with some very poignant observations and lessons.

Sep 25, 2014
  • skidrick rated this: 2 stars out of 5.

Not as strong as some of his other work...aside from college selection, his arguments stretch a little thin

Aug 21, 2014
  • DigitalDiva rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Malcolm Gladwell is a master at presenting a myriad of topics such as ivy-league schools, dyslexia, and small classroom size and convincing you to think differently. Because I've read this book, I do think differently and therefore parent my kids with a wider vision.

Aug 07, 2014
  • natalieruhl rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

I really enjoyed this book. It changed my perspective on the word "smart" and allowed me to see that intellect is relative. I really enjoyed the focus on the African American Civil Rights movement. A worthwhile read!

Jul 29, 2014
  • danielestes rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

I've come to expect a higher standard from Malcolm Gladwell and his latest work, David and Goliath, is another compelling triumph.

Similar to how his previous book, Outliers: The Story of Success, explores the complex underpinnings of the popular success narrative, this one takes the underdog v giant narrative, turns it on its head, and shows the contradictory variables at work. We mythologize the Davids and the Goliaths of this world in a way that grossly underestimates the underdog's inherent advantage and the giant's masked weaknesses. My favorite moments are the comparisons of the "big fish / little pond" and "little fish / big pond" examples. Classic Gladwell and spot on!

I was absorbed throughout with the exception of a portion near the middle. My attention noticeably waned as he discussed the Civil Rights Movement and the British occupation of Ireland. I think that, looking back, even though the material relates to the underdog's resourcefulness and the inverted U-shaped curve previously introduced, the connection to the book's central thesis wasn't as clear here as in the other chapters.

Jul 02, 2014
  • librarylizzard rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

I was interested to read this based on its popularity, though once I got my hands on it I was a bit disappointed. The premise is good (David beats Goliath, showing the perceived advantages are not always true advantages, followed by real world examples) but I was never captured by the book's content. Once I was halfway through I finished just to say I'd done it. A few good tidbits here and there, but it isn't nonfiction I'd recommend unless the person had an interest in the specific examples he provides (the impact on class size on achievement, for example).

May 31, 2014
  • writermala rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

If I thought this was going to be an elaboration of the David and Goliath story I was mistaken. It was much more than that. Gladwell uses the story as a stating point to prove his premise that the "underdog" can oftentimes be the "Favourite." He uses examples of a School Basketball coach, the Civil Rights Movement, the conflict in Northern Ireland, an Oncologist, a couple of dyslexia sufferers, all to prove that adversity can be overcome and in fact used to achieve remarkable results. I was hooked right from Chapter 1, and stayed tuned till the very end. I agree with the author that "The powerful are not as powerful as they seem - nor the weak as weak."

May 27, 2014
  • scrubble4 rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

I enjoy Gladwell's writing style. I did not find this book as tightly woven in its thinking as some of his previous books. Still, even when more quirky than representative of a situation, I found his thinking interesting. He means to nudge us outside our normal explanations for why things happen or how to interpret them. I think he succeeds again, although as some other commentators observed maybe not as completely as in previous books. Anything that makes me take a step back to examine my taken for granted assumptions has value to me.

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