Little David killed Goliath
Little David was a shepherd boy
He killed Goliath and shouted for joy, ‘Hey!’
Remember the children’s song? In David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell begins with the story of David and Goliath recorded in 1 Samuel 17 in the Bible. Traditionally, it is regarded by all as the triumph of the underdog in battle against the giant. Goliath was supposed to win, right? Wrong—that’s the premise of David and Goliath. The author unveils a number of reasons taking his arguments from how battle was conducted in ancient times to Goliath’s physiology to the weirdness of the recorded live action of that battle. For example: Why didn’t Goliath carry his own shield—why did he have a shield bearer if he was a foot soldier, and not an archer? Again, why did Goliath say David was coming at him with sticks—plural (or staves as in KJV) when David only had his one shepherd stick with him? These and many more insights in the book will cause you to rethink your whole belief about that epic battle.
Having read all the other books in the Gladwell-ecosystem (The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw), I reached out for David and Goliath expecting nothing less than his fascinating signature mix of research, anecdotes, and social interpretations that nudge us to look and see beyond the obvious. I was not disappointed. The author pushes two main ideas:
- Greatness and beauty arise from overcoming life’s overwhelming challenges.
- And that we habitually misinterpret the seemingly unfair conflicts between life’s threatening giants and the puny underdogs.
This he accomplished through a book divided into three parts after the captivating introduction. Part One introduces us to ‘The Advantages of Disadvantages (And the Disadvantages of Advantages)’; Part Two unveils ‘The Theory of Desirable Difficulty’; and Part Three warns us against ‘The Limits of Power’. These sections explore stories about a unique basketball strategy, a rethink of university admission, compensation learning, the travails of The Impressionists against the Salon, and the continuous debate about the right classroom size in US schools. The book also explains the relationship between money and parenting, one man’s crusade against leukemia, how Britons responded to Hitler’s bombings, and the Troubles of Northern Ireland.
And so once again, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an adventure, exploring and discovering the world beyond tradition or popular opinion in David and Goliath. He invites us to take a closer look at the Goliath-types in life be it in a real physical battle like the one David faced, or in events that threaten to overwhelm us, from personal to national and to see that we can rise above these just like the numerous examples the author presents to us in the book.
David and Goliath compels us rethink the beliefs we have traditionally held onto. More money will not bring continuously bring more happiness. In fact, too much money can hurt in certain ways! The advantage isn’t always with the quicker or stronger or bigger. The very attribute regarded a strength may become a sprawling weakness. Expertise, clout, and strength may not guarantee good outcomes. But a weakness can become a life-defining strength. Dyslexia, the reading disability, for instance, has become synonymous with entrepreneurial mega success. Familiar examples? Richard Branson of Virgin, John Chambers of Cisco, Ingvar Kamprad of Ikea. How is this possible?
I found the pace of the book flattening somewhat around the middle, but the author managed to round up it all up, ending on a celebration of the strength of the human spirit that to me is the most important element in the entire book. If all you can do is to read the first 15 pages, you will already have found some precious gem to hold onto although I encourage you to read it through to the last page. At the end, it’s not a Goliath of a book—just 305 pages, and those include the Notes and Index, but if you think it is, then the stage is set for another epic battle…where is your sling?
I highly recommend this book.