I Review: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Three years ago, a friend of mine and her dad bought me Outliers as a  gift. Before this, I hadn’t really heard of Malcolm Gladwell except a  few references to his book Tipping Point by people I considered somewhat  intellectual. I gave the book a read, and it absolutely blew my mind!  So when his new book, David and Goliath came out, I was reading  pre-release statements, watching videos, and waiting in heavy  anticipation for the book.

Malcolm Gladwell has an amazing ability to convey deep truths about  society and sociology using stories of ordinary people that the reader  can relate to. He explains the thoughts that happen within the minds of  human interaction, as well as the social forces that lead to certain  kinds of behaviour, and he does it so while capturing you in a  completely entertaining narrative of the lives of arbitrary characters  in the world’s stage.

In David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell looks at the misconceptions of  ‘advantage’ and ‘disadvantage’. He looks at how those who are perceived  to be advantaged may really be at a disadvantage, and how the underdogs  who are at a ‘disadvantage’ may really be at an advantage. Starting off  this theme of the book, he looks at the biblical narrative of David and  Goliath. How, because of Goliath’s size, training and rank within the  Philistine army, it would be expected that he would be at an advantage  to David. Similarly, because of David’s size, lack of armor, and lack of  military training, he may be expected to be at a disadvantage. But when  one looks at the story a lot deeper, Gladwell explains the reason why  Goliath’s size and training came at a disadvantage to him, and how  David’s lack of military training but experience in herding led to an  advantage for him.

The book continues to analyse how we misinterpret signs as advantage,  and how we interpret the lack of those signs as disadvantages, when  that may be completely false. This explains why underdogs are likely to  make it when fighting against large, established Goliaths. The first  section of the book looks at the disadvantages that come with perceived  advantages, and the advantages that come with perceived disadvantages.  One of the examples that captured me was the perception that enrolling  at the ‘best’ academic institution in the land may come at a  disadvantage to many, and even increase their chances of dropping out.  On the other hand, enrolling at what would be seen as an average  university may be more advantageous, and result in a better chance of  long term success for an individual.

In the second section of the book, he looks at how some difficulties  produce qualities in individuals that enable them to succeed better than  those who don’t have those difficulties. An example that he looks at is  individuals with dyslexia. Because of such disadvantages, many of them  have to develop other skills to cope with their difficulty, which other  ‘normal’ individuals would not develop. Because of such, they endow  themselves with some kind of ‘competitive advantage’ against their  peers.

In the last section, he looks at the limits of power. How the  perceived power of an individual or group could actually lead to their  downfall. The recurring story used in this section is Britain’s  ‘assistance’ in the tension between the Protestants and Catholics in  Ireland. They came in with power, yet this power was illegitimate, and  ultimately led to their disadvantage.

In an interview Malcolm Gladwell had at Google, a gentleman asked him  if he just makes up this stuff, and uses stories to prove his  presupposed outcomes. His response made me respect him even more. He is a  reader of research that has been done in the sociology field, and he  analyses the trends in the research. From there, he uses stories to make  the research more ‘people-friendly’, making it entertaining, but still  grounded in academia.

A second gentleman asked him if this is contradictory to what he  wrote in Outliers, where he said that those who are in advantageous  positions earlier on are likely to succeed and become the outliers. He  got a bit stumped. Awkward.

There were times though were I thought the book dragged a bit. Where  different stories were used to justify a point already made. Also,  because he uses threads of different topics in the larger tapestry he is  building, at the end of the book, I felt that there is little effort to  show an overall picture of the masterpiece that has been created, and  one is left with images of the threads, instead of images of the  tapestry.

All in all, I’d give this book a 3.5 out of 5 star rating.  

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