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David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

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In his #1 bestselling books The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell has explored the ways we understand and change our world. Now he looks at the complex and surprising ways the weak can defeat the strong, the small can match up against the giant, and how our goals (often culturally determined) can make a huge difference in our ultimate sense of success. Drawing upon examples from the world of business, sports, culture, cutting-edge psychology, and an array of unforgettable characters around the world, David and Goliath is in many ways the most practical and provocative book Malcolm Gladwell has ever written.

305 pages, Hardcover

First published October 1, 2013

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About the author

Malcolm Gladwell

143 books34.6k followers
Malcolm Gladwell is the author of five New York Times bestsellers—The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath. He is also the co-founder of Pushkin Industries, an audio content company that produces the podcasts Revisionist History, which reconsiders things both overlooked and misunderstood, and Broken Record, where he, Rick Rubin, and Bruce Headlam interview musicians across a wide range of genres. Gladwell has been included in the TIME 100 Most Influential People list and touted as one of Foreign Policy's Top Global Thinkers.

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Profile Image for Marcus.
311 reviews309 followers
December 4, 2013
Gladwell is taking a lot of heat for biasing the examples he chooses in his books to make points that are often later shown to be somewhat tenuous. That may be the case, but he is a heck of a writer. He knows how to tell a compelling story and the conversations he sparks go on for years.

Whatever harm that may come from the lack of rigorousness in his brand of pop-psychology is easily overshadowed by the positive cultural impact that comes from people giving serious consideration to his ideas and how they apply to their personal lives and to society on a larger scale. As with any book, don't read it passively, decide what you buy and what needs to be further examined. Enjoy it, it's a fun read.

I came across a cool and relevant quote in The Tell-Tale Brain by V. S. Ramachandran from Darwin's The Descent of Man:
"...false facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for everyone takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness; and when this is done, one path toward errors is closed and the road to truth is often at the same time opened."
Profile Image for Nabil Dabbagh.
21 reviews25 followers
December 2, 2013
I think everyone heard my jaw drop. Much like a born again who reads the bible for the first time, I have never been able to relate to a book as well as with David & Goliath.

Disclosure: I'm a dyslexic who spent all of his youth struggling through school -- spending my lunches tirelessly improving my spelling while everyone else spent their lunch break improving their rest. Things turned out all right, I was one of the first dyslexics at my school to graduate with an International Baccalaureate diploma and to receive the award for Extended Essay (the longest and most time consuming piece an 18-year-old writes).

And then recently I wrote a piece on my blog about criminal systems in Europe and America. It was a personal project which led me through months of research and reflection. I titled it, "To punish is to promote: How criminal justice systems can encourage crime" and came to the conclusion that in some instances punishment may actually have the opposite effect intended. In other words, I realized the limits of power.

So then to read Gladwell's David & Goliath was more than just an experience I could understand but completely relate with. It was so empowering to know I wasn't alone, that there were many more remote misses fighting to be just as good as everyone else in school and ending up with skills no class can teach.

If you haven't read David & Goliath you won't really understand what I'm speaking about. But I'd encourage everyone to read it. It will make you realize that there's no such thing as simple, black and white. There's grey. There's yellow, blue, pink, orange, you name it. It will allow you to understand that for every difficult hardships life will throw at you you'll learn skills everyone else will wish they had.

So go on, read and be inspired to turn every disadvantage in your life into your strongest asset.
Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
656 reviews7,105 followers
April 18, 2017

The Art of Avoiding Bestsellers: A Field Guide for Authors

How do books succeed?

By getting into the Bestseller lists? By making a few millions? By winning the most prestigious awards of the day?


These are very narrow views on what constitutes success for a work of art, especially literature or serious non-fiction. If we redefine success, we might find that these very things that confers ‘success’ in the short term might be hurting the artist/author the most in the long term. This applies to prestigious prizes such as Bookers as well, as we will see. We might even get an idea of why so few of the Booker winning books seem to be good enough a few years after their moment of glory. (Spoiler: )


Let us illustrate this by taking an example from this very book. This reviewer has to warn the reader that the example is originally invoked in the book for another purpose though it has been adopted more or less verbatim here, but we need to get into that now. (By the way, the careful reader should also be able to divine why this small essay is can also serve as a review for this book in particular and to all of Mr. Gladwell’s books in general.)

Let us go back to 19th century France. Art was a big deal in the cultural life of France back then. Painting was regulated by the government and was considered a profession in the same way that medicine or the law is a profession today. The Professionals who did well would win awards and prestigious fellowships. And at the pinnacle of the profession was The Salon, the most important art exhibition in all of Europe.


Every year each of the painters of France submitted two or three of his finest canvases to a jury of experts, bringing their work to the Palais de l’Industrie , an exhibition hall built for the Paris World Fair between the Champs-Élysées and the Seine. Throughout the next few weeks, the jury would vote on each painting in turn. Those deemed unacceptable would be stamped with the red letter “R” for rejected. Those accepted would be hung on the walls of the Palais, and over the course of six weeks beginning in early May, as many as a million people would throng the exhibition. The best paintings were given medals. The winners were celebrated and saw the value of their paintings soar - became ‘bestsellers’. The losers limped home and went back to work.

There are in Paris scarcely fifteen art-lovers capable of liking a painting without Salon approval,” Renoir once said. “There are 80,000 who won’t buy so much as a nose from a painter who is not hung at the Salon.

The Salon was the most important art show in the world. In short, for a painter in nineteenth-century France, the Salon was everything - the Booker Committee and the Bestseller List rolled into one.


And now, the twist:

In spite of the all the benefits, the acceptance by the Salon also came with a large cost: for the truly creative and path breaking (let us take for example the Impressionists such as Monet, which is the case study taken up by the book):

1. It required creating the kind of art that they did not find meaningful,

2. & They risked being lost in the clutter of other artists’ work. 

Was it worth it?

The Salon was the place where reputations were made. And what made it special was how selective it was. There were roughly three thousand painters of “national reputation” in France in the 1860s, and each submitted two or three of his best works to the Salon, which meant the jury was picking from a small mountain of canvases. Rejection was the norm. Getting in was a feat. “The Salon is the real field of battle,” Manet said. “It’s there that one must take one’s measure.”  It was the place where “you could succeed in making a noise, in defying and attracting criticism, coming face-to-face with the big public.

But the very things that made the Salon so attractive—how selective and prestigious it was—also made it problematic.

No painter could submit more than three works. The crowds were often overwhelming. The Salon was the Big Pond. But it was very hard to be anything at the Salon but a Little Fish.


Night after night, the rebels (the Impressionists) argued over whether they should keep knocking on the Salon door or strike out on their own and stage a show just for themselves. Did they want to be a Little Fish in the Big Pond of the Salon or a Big Fish in a Little Pond of their own choosing?

The problem for the rebels such as the Impressionists was The Salon’s attitude: it was cautious, traditional. It had a reputation to uphold for being the voice of approval. It could not afford to make mistakes.

“Works were expected to be microscopically accurate, properly ‘finished’ and formally framed, with proper perspective and all the familiar artistic conventions,” the art historian Sue Roe writes. “Light denoted high drama, darkness suggested gravitas. In narrative painting, the scene should not only be ‘accurate,’ but should also set a morally acceptable tone. An afternoon at the Salon was like a night at the Paris Opéra: audiences expected to be uplifted and entertained. For the most part, they knew what they liked, and expected to see what they knew.

The kinds of paintings that won medals, Roe says, were huge, meticulously painted canvases showing scenes from French history or mythology, with horses and armies or beautiful women, with titles like Soldier’s Departure, Young Woman Weeping over a Letter, and Abandoned Innocence.

The Impressionists, on the other hand, had an entirely different idea about what constituted art.

They painted everyday life. Their brushstrokes were visible. Their figures were indistinct. To the Salon jury and the crowds thronging the Palais, their work looked amateurish, even shocking, and was repeatedly turned down. They had no hope of making waves in the Big Pond of The Salon.


The Big Fish–Little Pond Gambit

Pissarro and Monet were smarter. They conjured up an alternative to the shackles of the Salon.

They thought it made more sense to be a Big Fish in a Little Pond. If they were off by themselves and held their own show, they said, they wouldn’t be bound by the restrictive rules of the Salon, where the medals were won by paintings of soldiers and weeping women. They could paint whatever they wanted. And they wouldn’t get lost in the crowd, because there wouldn’t be a crowd.

In 1873, Pissarro and Monet proposed that the Impressionists set up a collective called the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs. There would be no competition, no juries, and no medals. Every artist would be treated as an equal.

The Impressionists’ exhibition opened on April 15, 1874, and lasted one month. The entrance fee was one franc. There were 165 works of art on display, including three Cézannes, ten paintings by Degas, nine Monets, five Pissarros, six Renoirs, and five by Alfred Sisley—a tiny fraction of what was on the walls of the Salon across town. In their show, the Impressionists could exhibit as many canvases as they wished and hang them in a way that allowed people to actually see them.

This was the first exhibition of "Impressionism". It was here that Critic Louis Leroy took the title of a work by Monet, 'Impression, Sunrise' to deride exposure and then went on to qualify these artists, quite skeptically, as "Impressionists."

The name stuck.


This historic show brought the artists some critical attention. Not all of that attention was positive: one joke (in addition to the name 'impressionism' itself!) told was that what the Impressionists were doing was loading a pistol with paint and firing at the canvas.

But that was the second part of the Big Fish–Little Pond bargain. The Big Fish–Little Pond option might be scorned by some on the outside, but Small Ponds are welcoming places for those on the inside. They have all of the support that comes from community and friendship—and they are places where innovation and individuality are not frowned upon.

We are beginning to make ourselves a niche,” a hopeful Pissarro wrote to a friend. “We have succeeded as intruders in setting up our little banner in the midst of the crowd.” Their challenge was “to advance without worrying about opinion.” He was right. Off by themselves, the Impressionists found a new identity. They felt a new creative freedom, and before long, the outside world began to sit up and take notice.

In the history of modern art, there has never been a more important or more famous exhibition. If you tried to buy the paintings in that warren of top-floor rooms today, it would cost you more than a billion dollars.


In the end, the Impressionists were lucky to make the right choice, which is one of the reasons that their paintings hang in every major art museum in the world. But this same dilemma comes up again and again, and often the choice made is not as wise.

Their story should remind today’s top artists and authors that there is a point at which money and mainstream recognition stop making them and start breaking them. The story of the Impressionists suggests that when the artists/authors strive for the best and attach great importance to getting into the Bestseller lists and Booker Lists, rarely do they stop and consider—as the Impressionists did—whether this is always in their best interest:

1. One of the important lessons the Impressionists could teach the modern artists is that there are times and places where it is better to be a Big Fish in a Little Pond than a Little Fish in a Big Pond, where the apparent disadvantage of being an outsider in a marginal world turns out not to be a disadvantage at all.

2. Another important lesson is that what counts in the end is if you let the Big Pond define you, or if you were brave enough to invent an alternative. The answer might not always be a Little Pond, but it sure can’t be meek acceptance of the current status quo path either.

Think of all the great artists of the modern age who could hardly be defined as mainstream during their own lifetimes, who would never dream of writing for the approval of a committee, who were as far away from honors and awards and money as only exiles could be.

Think of all the books with prestigious honors and the #1 bestseller mark that seem like jokes now.

Think about how so many of our best authors seem to end up producing the same sort of exceptional trash - very well written, but hardly the real deal that would last a century.


What then can be an alternative for the ones who want to break free? We can talk about one option that our case study suggests - it might not be the only option, and the creative ones can always come up with better option, but the exhortation of this reviewer is a simple one: that the really ambitions artists and authors need to start thinking hard about the best use of their own abilities and efforts.

(Added here from the comments section, for clarity):

To restate, in our day the artists have three options -

1. Satisfy the Bank
2. Satisfy the critics (or impress)
3. Or satisfy their own genius (or impress)

The last being the most risky and perhaps most important one.

So what is the winning option again? For one thing, examples abound of niche novelists’ groups pushing the boundaries of literature, slowly attaining cult status and eventually becoming part of the canon itself. Just as Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, and Cézanne weighed prestige against visibility, selectivity against freedom, and decided the costs of the Big Pond were too great, it is time for the really serious to make the same call, of rejecting the conventional trappings of ‘success’ that only serves to limit their possibilities.
Profile Image for Tony.
154 reviews44 followers
September 9, 2014
No-one does insight porn quite as well as Malcolm Gladwell. His technique has been fairly well analysed before, and, with the publication of “David and Goliath” is currently under the spotlight again (e.g. http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/10/m... and http://blog.chabris.com/2013/10/why-m...). Even though much of the backlash often falls directly into the same traps of which he gets accused (e.g. critics cherry-picking the parts of his books that best support their complaints), the key argument is generally quite valid: Gladwell takes a minority, slightly counter-intuitive, perspective, highlights some evidence that possibly supports it, and ignores alternative readings of the same stories, and all the evidence for different positions.

The key question is: how much does this matter?

One of the central concepts in this book is that of the inverted U-curve — where an increase in something is valuable for a while, but then starts to become a negative (e.g. drinking some alcohol is good for your health, but drinking too much causes problems.) Gladwell applies this to numerous other areas, from teacher–student ratios, or the relationship between wealth and parenting, through to punishment for crimes.

But one question not asked in this book, or any review I've seen of it so far, is whether Gladwell's own brand of pop-science might have exactly the same curve, and whether he might actually now be at the wrong end of it.

This book contains two extended discussions on topics I know quite a lot about (the conflict in Northern Ireland, and the interpretation of the Biblical story of David and Goliath). In each there's an existing dominant narrative that is largely flawed. But directly attacking a dominant narrative generally has little effect (indeed, often simply reinforces it). A more effective approach to countering a position with which you disagree, and one that Gladwell is a master of, is to simply tell a better story with a different narrative. (There has been significant research on this area in recent years, particularly with respect to political debate, but there's also a long history of this in theology too, in the battles between heresy and orthodoxy.)

On the left-hand side of the inverted U-curve, this is a very valuable function. Handled well this approach stimulates thinking and debate and, hopefully, leads to a deeper and more nuanced general understanding of the area. But this relies on arriving at a synthesis of both positions. The key problem with Gladwell, it seems to me, is that he's simply too good at what he does. He's such a superb story-teller that people read his books and come away convinced of his positions, accepting his narrative as being the complete truth itself, rather than simply as a valuable contribution to a wider debate and understanding.

But I'm unconvinced that this is a flaw with his books and columns themselves. They're doing a very precise thing, and doing it very well. And this one is no exception. It's a delight to read, and raises a lot of very interesting and valuable questions. And those who wish to challenge the answers it offers would do well to learn from the approach, and start telling better stories themselves.

Profile Image for Amanda.
293 reviews
October 8, 2013
Now, there is a lot of skepticism about Gladwell and his research methods, but whether he self-selects his data or whatever, I think that the very nature of his writing indicates that his research isn't totally conclusive. So why bother reading him? Well, Gladwell, whether he's a legitimate social scientist(or whatever the term is) or not, is a pretty gifted writer. He has a knack for telling stories and presenting dry information, like statistics, in a compelling way. Plus, his theories are always provoking, if not convincing.

I like to read Gladwell as more of a short story collector rather than reading his books as though they prove a single theory about humanity and how we live. Taking his chapters in isolation, he uses the form of the case study to advance some interesting ideas and I don't always agree with him.

So if we think of David and Goliath as a collection of case studies that loosely revolve around a particular theme (power, the myth of advantage, and the underdog-something Gladwell is particularly obsessed by), several chapter are capable of provoking conversation such as his chapter on class sizes. Using a high school that can have classes as small as 12 kids, Gladwell talks about the "too much of a good thing" danger and succeeds in making us realize that small class sizes are not the golden solution to America's education problem and are not necessarily a good thing...but then he totally disrupts that train of thought when he validly mentions that a drop in class sizes across the board resulted in no appreciable gain because teachers weren't adapting their teaching methods.

It seems to me that in his work there is always this give and take. He gives you an idea and some evidence to back it up...and then throws in some parallel story that either invalidates the first point or is completely irrelevant. For instance, he takes the founder of the Three Strikes Law and talks about the tragic circumstances that led to the law's genesis. He then talks about the problems of the law, weaves in some stuff about legitimate power and how cracking down harder on criminals is nonsense using Northern Ireland's history and a specific neighborhood in New York. At this point, I'm totally with it. But then he throws in a story that's meant to parallel Reynold's story-a family in Canada whose daughter is kidnapped and then years later found dead and subsequent investigations lead to the murderer being apprehended- and then talks about how this Canadian family chooses not to use their daughter's case to bring about change of the legal system..and attributes this to their Mennonite background. The overall effect is that it leaves the reader kind of confused and adds nothing to this underdog defeating the giant theme. These kinds of problems occur throughout the entire book and the ending leads one to wonder...what exactly was the point of all that, Gladwell?

Added to the fact that much of this book seems to deal with stuff that's way too similar to the ground he covered with Outliers , I'd only recommend this book to teachers looking for excerpts to use to provoke criticality about bias and research or using excerpts to introduce an idea about power, justice, etc.
Profile Image for Moeen Sahraei.
29 reviews35 followers
February 17, 2021
بعد از این یک ماه و نیم که مشغول خوندن کتاب های گلدول بودم بنظرم رتبه بندیشون به این شکل میتونه باشه :
2-tipping point
3-David and Goliath
4-talking to strangers
گرچه همه ی کتاب هاش قشنگ بودن و نکات کاربردی ای برای زندگی شخصی و کاری داشتن

همیشه در مورد افرادی که از فقر و نداری به بالاترین درجات اجتماعی میرسن رو شنیدیم و یک مسئله غیر قابل انکاره. گلدول در این کتاب این ادعا رو مطرح میکنه که موفق شدن افرادی که شاید از نظر ظاهری خیلی ضعیف بنظر بیان اون طوری که مردم فکر میکنن چیز عجیبی نیست. به طور مثال داوود با سبک جنگیدن متفاوتی که پیش گرفت خیلی هم طبیعی بود که بتونه جالوت رو شکست بده چون سرباز پیاده نظام همیشه توی جنگ ها از سنگ انداز شکست میخورده

برخلاف بقیه کتاب های گلدول داستان های این کتاب میتونه خیلی انگیزه زیادی بهتون بده و امیدوارتون کنه به اینده. خصوصا بخش اول و دوم کتاب که ثابت میکنه"ضعف" یه کلمه کاملا نسبیه و حتی یک بیماری و اختلال خیلی سخت یا خودکشی پدر مادر و فقر و خاطرات تلخ بچگی میتونه نقطه "قوت" فرد و عامل موفقیتش باشه

بیشترین داستانی که از کتاب دوست داشتم داستان شخصی بود که داروی سرطان خون رو کشف کرد و مسیر سختی که برای رسیدن به این هدف طی کرد تابع سختی هایی بوده که اون پزشک طی بچگی کشیده

در کل تجربه خوندن کتب گلدول خیلی لذت بخش بود و باعث شد حقایق بسیار زیادی رو از دنیا و ذهن انسان بفهمم
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,302 reviews22.1k followers
November 13, 2013
This guy writes so well. He draws you in with beautifully crafted stories. Murnane says in one of his books that he regretted having told people that some of his books were works of fiction and some essays. I really believe that creativity is essential for both these writing tasks, and that because real art prefers to hide, there is a good argument to be had in believing that more creativity is asked for in the writing of non-fiction than in fiction.

Not that this guy really hides his artifice. His stories are painstakingly structured and his punches are delivered with such precision that it is hard not to want to applaud even as they slam into the side of your face.

And I love that he leads me down the garden path. I wonder how many people will be caught in the depths of their prejudices only to find the tables being turned. It would be hard to make a more compelling argument, for instance, in favour of the Californian ‘three strikes and your in’ laws than he makes here or to find a way to so convincingly refute this emotional, logical and compelling argument almost immediately after.

This book was infinitely confronting for me. If I was paranoid then I would have to assume Gladwell had gone out of his way to find every topic I find almost unbearable to think about – that somehow he had written this book as part of a bizarre vendetta against me. I’ve explained my problems with dyslexia before - https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... - so want go through that again other than to say that I found this part of the book really hard going. I wouldn’t wish dyslexia on my worst enemy – shame and humiliation are not toys to be played with. As you can also see in that review, I’m from Belfast and left just before the Troubles started. That Gladwell discusses the internment here was and is and will always be like an open wound for me – my childhood consisted of hearing stories of rubber bullets fired into crowds of protestors and spent singing songs about armoured cars and tanks and guns that came to take away our sons, of collective punishments meted out by unfeeling monsters and of whole populations being guilty because they were Irish. Parts of this book held a mirror up to all of the things that made me feel different and odd and out of place in my childhood, all of the things that held me apart, and those things never really leave you, even if you haven’t thought about them for years.

And if you want to make me full of an unquenchable fury, then talk of collaborators with the Nazis turning in Jews so they can to be transported to the death camps. Or of people refusing to buy clothes because a black person may have touched them. Or of black children being arrested and ‘checked for venereal disease’ as a means of humiliating them for asking for justice, for having to ask for what ought to have been theirs’ by birth right.

And the worst of my nightmares are here too. I am a father of two daughters. This book was written to torture people like me. Torture us by showing our nightmares made real, lived out in the lives of people we would empathise with, but Gladwell forces from us more than merely our empathy, he places us in their shoes – he has us holding the hands of our own daughters as they lay dying or has us wait months to learn of their slow death by torture. I let very few writers take me to those places.

This book has opened and scattered salt across virtually every wound and every scar, real and imagined, of which my life is constituted. All the same, read it. This isn’t a pleasant read by any stretch of the imagination, this isn’t something which is fun – but you’ll remember this book and it will make you think and it will make you feel – and there’s not much else to ask from books.
Profile Image for Jane Stewart.
2,462 reviews870 followers
October 18, 2013
What an excellent storyteller. I love his mind. I was smiling a lot. It’s stimulating. These things are fun to think about.

Not everything he says is irrefutable fact. Some of his information is anecdotal. But he raises good questions. I think what he says is true, even though opposite or different views may be true. Some topics were a little slow, but I was frequently delighted and fascinated.

The story of David and Goliath

Less talented basketball players can win using full court press.

The best class size for one teacher was 29. Too small, 9 was bad. The reason is students had more peers. There was more interaction, dialogue, and energy among the students. A class size of 36 was too large to be good.

Two brilliant and talented students got into top colleges: a science major at Brown and a math major at Harvard. After two years they were so disheartened and disappointed that they switched to less rigorous majors. The reason is they were surrounded by so many bright minds, they felt average or below average in those fields. If they had gone to second tier schools, they would have been at the top of their classes and probably not changed majors.

Dr. Jay Freireich lacked empathy for his patients - children with leukemia. Therefore, he was willing to experiment with painful and dangerous procedures for these children - things other doctors were unwilling to do. Under the care of empathetic doctors, children died from leukemia. But they were cured by Dr. Freireich’s procedures of repeated cocktails of painful drugs and large needles taking frequent and painful bone marrow samples. It is suggested that his lack of empathy was caused by lack of parental nurturing and love when he was a child.

Dyslexics developed abilities that brought them great success.

Too much money creates parenting problems.
Different types of fear and lack of fear during the WWII bombings in London.
Civil rights movement in Birmingham Alabama
The British and Protestants vs the Catholics in Ireland
California’s three strikes and you’re out - jailing criminals
The Huguenots in France protecting Jews during WWII

I was pleased the author provided a PDF file that audiobook buyers could download. It has the picture of the dog attacking a black man in Alabama which he talked about. It also has charts and a few references.

The author narrated this book. His manner and voice were excellent - soft, easy to listen to, and enthusiastic. I’d love to hear him narrate some of my fiction books.

Unabridged audiobook reading time: 7 hrs. Swearing language: occasional f-word. Sexual content: none. Book copyright 2013. Genre: Psychology & Sociology Nonfiction.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,720 followers
June 22, 2015
This is classic Malcolm Gladwell: A bunch of enjoyable and entertaining case studies grouped loosely under a thought-provoking theme. This time his theory is that being the underdog and having disadvantages can actually be an advantage.

The title comes from a biblical story about a giant warrior named Goliath who was slain by David, a shepherd boy who was good with a slingshot. Gladwell analyzes the story and determines that the boy was not, in fact, an underdog, but was actually was a skilled hunter, and that Goliath didn't stand a chance against him.

My favorite discussions in the book were about education, including the popular-but-apparently-not-true belief that small class sizes are always better. There were also some good stories about choosing colleges, and students reading this may be surprised to learn that a high-ranking school (such as the Ivy League) may not always be the best option for your career.

There was also a good discussion about dyslexia, and why having challenges to overcome could actually help motivate you to be more successful.

I finished this book a few days ago, and it is already fading fast from my mind, something that always happens to me with Gladwell books. I find his writing pleasant and his ideas interesting, but the details don't always stick. Recommended for those who want to feel like they've learned something, but you don't want to think too hard.
Profile Image for Andrew.
573 reviews166 followers
October 5, 2013
Malcolm Gladwell is one of those authors who you remember reading, but may not quite recall which book a particular phrase came from. They're all pretty similar.

But that's the beauty of Gladwell. He's developing a coherent canon and, really, do you want to be surprised all the time? The world is disconcerting enough already.

The title, David and Goliath, tells you exactly what this book is about. It's about the little guy who made good and, even better, who turned his adversities into strengths. In Gladwellian fashion there are illustrative anecdotes - from short basketball players, to orphaned children, to anti-Nazi French villagers - that expand upon the idea of less can be more. Or following the sometimes Biblical headers in the book: The last shall be first.

So why only three stars? Because Gladwell is that sort of author. Pretty predictable, but pretty good at it. And always enjoyable.

Follow me on Twitter: @Dr_A_Taubman
Profile Image for Sarah Novak.
78 reviews7 followers
October 7, 2013
I've never hidden my stigmatized identity as an academic social scientist who loves Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell's books are routinely criticized by folks in my field for relying too heavily on anecdotes, conveniently selecting and interpreting supportive scientific studies, and imprecision/ overgeneralization. These points are valid, but I don't see them as damning. Gladwell isn't a scientist, and he's not writing textbooks. Ideally, he helps spark people's interest in research and makes them want to know more (and maybe less eager to de-fund science?).

I enjoy getting swept up in Gladwell's story-telling and I like the way he weaves together a little research with a lot of engaging humanities / human-interest-type stuff. I don't always buy his arguments, and there's plenty to nit-pick, but I admire and enjoy his rhetorical style. His stories are juicy and memorable.

David & Goliath is similar to Gladwell's previous trilogy of social science-y books. The theme here is situations where underdogs prevail and giants fail to benefit from their seemingly obvious advantages. As usual, the theme is diffuse and some of the stories are more germane, persuasive, or compelling than others. Still, I enjoyed taking the somewhat meandering, but also thought-provoking journey.
Profile Image for Blaine.
782 reviews659 followers
September 21, 2021
David and Goliath opens, appropriately, with a discussion of the literal confrontation between David and Goliath, and how the conventional understanding that David was a massive underdog is precisely backwards. In fact, Goliath never stood a chance of defeating David (there are reasons). And Mr. Gladwell uses that story to lay out the two ideas he wants to examine. The first is that “the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty.” The second is that:
[W]e 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.
David and Goliath explores these ideas in a wide array of areas. As is usual in Mr. Gladwell’s books, there are discussions of psychological and social science research into various issues surrounding schools and parenting, learning disabilities and the differences between capitalization learning and compensation learning. There’s also a surprising amount of history here, ranging from the story of David and Goliath, to the impressionist masters of late-19th century France, to the Blitz and Vichy France, to the 1960s American Civil Rights movement. Indeed, the discussion of Londoners’ reaction to the Blitz, and how those who did not suffer direct hits or near misses soon began to feel a sense of invincibility from their remote misses, felt very prescient about how too many people reacted to the pandemic.

Some of David and Goliath’s conclusions feel inescapably true, even if you find the examples used to illustrate them feel a bit forced. We do misjudge certain things as being advantages that really aren’t. Disadvantages do cause some people to develop other skills, become stronger, or give them the unexpected freedom of having nothing to lose. There are limits to power in that it must be seen as legitimate or else its will lead to backlash. Other ideas are more intriguing, even if ultimately unproven. When is it better to be a big fish in a little pond than a little fish in a big pond? How many things in this world are subject to the ideas of the law of diminishing returns and the inverted U curve?

As always, Mr. Gladwell makes you reconsider what you thought you knew. David and Goliath may not always be completely persuasive, but it is another entertaining and thought-provoking read. Recommended.
Profile Image for Caroline.
506 reviews587 followers
November 3, 2015
I'm a Spock sort of person. I believe that everything in the universe is logical. If something appears to be illogical it is simply because our knowledge about it is lacking. Unlike Spock though I embrace a wider spectrum of what constitutes logic, eg emotions are very important and relevant....but otherwise I agree completely with his approach to life.

This book is all about situations that don't look logical on the surface, but if you dig a little deeper you discover the logic. To that extent it reminds me slightly of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything - a book I enjoyed enormously. It looks under the surface of things to discover what is really going on.

Situations where the underdog does well are explored...some of these include:

*David and Goliath. (It turns out David was not the underdog he at first appeared to be...)

*The surprising emotional or intellectual strengths that can result from a childhood where loss or scarcity have been experienced.... eg poverty, the loss of a parent, or the experience of dyslexia. Obviously a constructive outcome does not apply to everyone who has undergone these obstacles in life, but it does apply to a surprising number of people.

*The importance of equality to levels of happiness. Sometimes very poor countries have a higher rating of happiness than richer countries, where there is greater disparity between people. It is not correct to automatically assume that the people in poorer countries are automatically more unhappy.

*Small class sizes in schools are over-rated, sometimes bigger classes are better. (Though there is a cap on size too. Massive classes aren't helpful either.)

*Unless you are an absolute genius, it is better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond. This applies startlingly to universities. Go to Harvard at your peril.

*The experiences of Martin Luther King and his supporters in Birmingham.

*The shortcomings of the Three Strikes legal system in California, initiated by Mike Reynolds, whose daughter was murdered in 1992, versus a philosophy of forgiveness, as shown by a Mennonite called Wilma Derksen, whose daughter was also murdered.

*The Troubles in Ireland, and how a march by a group of Catholic women managed to undermine the force of the British army.

*The extraordinary courage of the people of Le Chambon in France, who sheltered Jewish people in World War 2, and how they managed to get away with it, despite the Germans being aware of what was going on.

I found the book interesting, but a little 'bitty' (lots of short pieces about different things.) Some of the situations described interested me more than others, but this is probably only natural. I'm also not convinced of a philosophy of the strength of the underdog. Yes, sometimes it happens, and often it is great when it does, but there are millions of occasions where the winner takes all. There were some fascinating nuggets of information though, and all in all it was an enjoyable read.


Malcolm Gladwell's TED lecture on why David beat Goliath


The New York Times review of this book:

Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
816 reviews2,586 followers
December 25, 2013
Malcolm Gladwell's books are all in the same style. Gladwell writes interesting anecdotes and then generalizes them, showing common themes, behaviors, or morals. Whether or not these generalizations are valid, his books are vastly entertaining, and this book is no exception. David and Goliath is perhaps the most entertaining book I read this year!

In the introduction, Gladwell reviews the biblical story of David and Goliath. The popular conception is that Goliath was a mighty warrior, and David a meek shepherd who was clearly the underdog. Gladwell turns the story around, and by analyzing the biblical verses, he shows that David was not an underdog at all. He had a number of advantages that should have raised his odds of winning.

This is the major theme of the book; many apparent disadvantages can turn out to be advantages, while many apparent advantages can turn out to be disadvantageous. Each chapter is a compendium of anecdotes from all spheres of life, that give evidence for this turnabout.

Gladwell describes a father who volunteered to be a basketball coach for his daughter's team. Neither the father nor the girls had any experience with basketball. But because he was desperate, the father came up with an atypical strategy that turned the team into a powerhouse.

Gladwell shows that although dyslexia is a learning disability, it can help mold a person. A person with dyslexia, given the right aptitudes, can overcome the handicap and excel where other people have lesser abilities. At a meeting of prominent university donors--mostly successful businesspeople, a neuroscientist asked how many had been diagnosed with a learning disorder. Half the hands went up.

A medical doctor who had a terrible, traumatic childhood developed a cure for childhood leukemia. Other doctors with normal childhoods were too squeamish to experiment and find such a cure.

Gladwell shows that ultra-small class sizes are not always advantageous. Selective, elite schools are not necessarily good for all the students--they might only be good for those students at the very top of the class. He wrote that
"...if you want to see the positive effects of elite schools on self-concept, you are measuring the wrong person. You should be measuring the parents."

The chapter about elite schools follows up with a very interesting observation, that it is better to be a big fish in a "small pond" than a little fish in a "big pond". As evidence for this, Gladwell cites statistics about college students completing a STEM degree (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). He writes that "the likelihood of a student completing a STEM degree rises by 2 percentage points for every 10-point decrease in the university's average SAT score." If you are in a university where many people seem to be smarter than you, it is more likely that you will drop out of a challenging curriculum.

Gladwell writes about the apprehension in London before the expected bombing blitz by the Nazis.
Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you've been through the tough times and you discover they aren't so tough after all.
He shows how the Germans thought that the bombing would traumatize the city. Instead, it made the British more courageous than ever before.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in psychology, as a fast, entertaining look at human behavior.
10 reviews
April 3, 2019
Malcolm Gladwell is notorious in certain circles for his brand of "turns out" pseudo-science writing. The typical structure look something like this: First, he lays out a topic about which there's a certain conventional wisdom. He then proceeds to explain, through a series of anecdotes backed loosely by scientific research, that it "turns out" that this conventional wisdom is incorrect. Outliers and The Tipping Point are two previous examples which I thoroughly enjoyed. This book follows that formula, but less successfully than his previous works.

Overall, this book was very mediocre. If you thoroughly enjoyed Gladwell's other books, you might consider reading this. Otherwise, I'd probably skip it - just read Outliers instead. Gladwell's books have always walked the line between thought-provoking and entertaining on one hand, and over-simplistic and strained on the other hand. This one fell on the wrong side of that line. The stories frequently managed to be entertaining and adequately told, but the link between the stories and the ideas they're supposed to illustrate are frequently far too flimsy to hold up under any kind of scrutiny. Portions of the book, particularly his direct deconstruction of the story of David and Goliath, are even painful to read. I'm not sorry that I read it, but I wouldn't recommend it highly to others.
Profile Image for James.
468 reviews13 followers
December 17, 2013
I wrote about my Malcolm Gladwell ambivalence in my What the Dog Saw review. Reading Gladwell has become, for me, the literary equivalent of eating Cheetos or listening to Coldplay - I unequivocally enjoy the experience, but in a vaguely unsatisfying way and I wouldn't want anyone to catch me doing it. His rhetorical stock-in-trade is the reassessment of received wisdom about human behavior examined with respect to such organizing topics as trends, decision-making, success and, in this instance, perceived relative advantage in apparently mismatched conflicts. David and Goliath's argument gets off to a rather clumsy start with a creakily literal-minded 'historical' analysis of the titular metaphor. Gladwell is right about the ubiquity and deadliness of slingers in ancient warfare, but his assertion that Goliath is the warrior 'outgunned' by his opponent ("'Goliath had as much chance against David,' the historian Robert Dohrenwend writes, 'as any Bronze Age warrior with a sword would have had against an [opponent] armed with a .45 automatic.'") doesn't seem so much a radical reassessment of the mythic conflict as a pedestrian reassertion of its traditional significance. And the claim that the 'historical' Goliath suffered, like Guiness's tallest-man-ever Robert Wadlow, from acromegaly, strikes me as the sort of disturbingly naive literalism I would expect from a televangelist and not a staff science writer for the New Yorker. Does he suppose that the giant in the Jack tales suffered from the malady, as well?
But, I quibble. The concepts of relative deprivation and desirable difficulty were convincing if not
entirely new, and the analysis of iconic civil rights photographs, particularly the image of teenage Walter Gadsden being 'attacked' by a police dog, was revelatory. Gladwell has a clean, unobtrusive style and a facility for translating arid scientific literature into engaging layman's prose.
Can I offer you a Cheeto?
Profile Image for Erika Daniels.
493 reviews1 follower
May 12, 2014
I was not impressed. Although I have liked Gladwell's other books, this one was a miss. While I recognize that he finds empirical studies to support the central ideas of his books and am generally okay with that, he went too far with David and Goliath. It was clear that he had a conviction that he wanted to persuade others to adopt and the stories in the book were chosen for that purpose. That part was expected and understandable; the part I couldn't get past was that I have read many of the studies that he cited and disagree with the conclusions. Additionally, he gave a lot of stories to persuade a reader toward his opinion of class size reduction, but nearly all of the studies that supported his claims came from Economics journals. My final complaint is that the stories used to illustrate his central idea felt disjointed and haphazard. All in all, this was not a well-written book that worked toward a coherent conclusion. Such a disappointment.
Profile Image for Amir Tesla.
161 reviews681 followers
March 21, 2017
پیشنهاد به:
اگر ازدیدن زوایای نهان پدیده ها که از دید غالب مردم نهان هست لذت می برد.
اگر خطی فکر می کنید و از مواجه با غول های زندگی (رقیبان سرسخت، اتفاقات ناگوار زندگی) واهمه دارید.
حتما این کتاب رو بخونید

موضوع کتاب
این کتاب از حکایت نبرد داود (چوپان ظاهرا نحیف اسرائیلی) که جالوت (جنگ جوی غول پیکر فلسطینی) رو شکست می ده درس ها و نکته های بزرگی رو بیان می کنه و نگاه کاملا متفاوت و بهتری نسبت به چیزی که ما ضعف یا قدرت پیش خودمون می پنداریم ارائه می کنه

بررسی و محتوا
یک دسته کتاب ها هستن که بعد از خوندنشون شخص انگار با دید شفاف تر و بهتری به دنیا نگاه می کنه و این کتاب قطعا یکی ازون هاست.
حکایت نبرد داود و جالوت این درس رو می ده که چه طور چیزی که به ظاهر ضعف می پنداریم می تونه نقطه قوت و چیزی که قدرت می پنداریم می تونه پاشنه آشیلی بشه برای صاحب اون قدرت و اینکه شرایطی دهشتناک چه طور می تونه زمینه ساز پیداش و شکوفایی استعداد ها و نیروی های نهفته در فرد یا ملتی بشه.

The act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty and giants are not what we think they are.

به طور کلی کتاب سعی در بخشیدن رویکرد و نگاه جدیدی به ما داره در مواجه با شرایطی که به طور غریضی در موردشن نتیجه گیری می کنیم. به سوالات زیر فکر کنید و ببینید چه جوابی به ذهنتون می رسه؟

1. آیا کاهش تعداد دانش آموزان کلاس، به بالا رفتن بهره وری و کیفیت آموزش و یادگیری کمک می کنه؟
2. آیا افزایش دادن مجازات جرم، باعث کاهش اون می شه؟
3. نرخ خودکشی در یه کشور با سطح خوشحالی بالاتر بیشتر هست یا در کشوری که غالب جامعه افسرده هستن؟

جواب سوالای بالا بسیار متفاوت با چیزی هست که به طور درونی فکر می کنیم درست هستن و این کتاب بالقوه خواننده رو به یک ماژول فکری جدید مجهز می کنه که به طور خطی به پدیدا نگاه نکنه.

The powerful and strong, are not always what they seem.

حالا به این سوال فکر کنید، پذیرش گرفتن از دانشگاهی مثل هاروارد بهتره یا قبولی در یک دانشگاه خوب در چند پله پایین تر مثل مریلند؟
جواب پیش فرض و غریضی غالب مردم احتمالا این هست که خوب هاروارد تاپ ترین دانشگاه دنیاست و احتمالا این گزینه رو انتخاب می کنند در صورتی که شاید این انتخاب نقطه ای سرخط بر دنبال کردن تحصیلات دانشگاهی برای اون شخص بشه.

We strive for the best and attach great importance to getting into the finest institutions we can. But rarely do we stop and consider whether the most prestigious of institutions is always in our best interest.

در کتاب مفهومی که در این خصوص بررسی می شه "محدودیت نسبی" نام داره به این معنی که آدم ها از نظر توانایی و صلاحیت خودشون رو در مقیاس بزرگ و جهانی نمی سنجن بلکه به طور محلی و در مقایسه با افرادی که در تعامل با اون هستن بررسی می کنن که این موضوع مثل یک شمشیر دو لبه عمل می کنه.
مثلا فرد باهوشی که در جمع نوابع قرار بگیره ممکنه احساس خنگ بودن بهش دست بده و همین سد راهی بشه برای دنبال کردن اهداف بزرگی که قبلا داشت و قابل دست رس می دید.

Students who would feel that they have mastered a subject at a good school can have the feeling that they are falling farther and farther behind in a really good school. How you feel about your abilities—your academic “self-concept”—in the context of your classroom shapes your willingness to tackle challenges and finish difficult tasks. It’s a crucial element in your motivation and confidence.

با این توضیح می تونید سوال سوم رو در بالا جواب بدید.

در بخش دیگه ای، نویسنده به بررسی مواردی که ما به طور پیش فرض ضعف و نقصان می پنداریم می پردازه. سوال زیر رو در نظر بگیرید:
به نظر شما داشتن بیماری دیسلکسیا ( بیماری که با داشتن، شخص توانایی یادگیری خواندن و نوشتن رو نخواهد داشت) خوب هست یا بد؟
باز هم عقل سلیم ممکنه بگه چه طور همچین بیماری می تونه خوب باشه. اما باز هم به خوبی مالکوم گلدول نگاه جدیدی رو به خواننده می ده که چه طور وج��د یک محدودیت یا اشکال می تونه باعث شکل گیری توانایی ها و مهارت هایی بشه که فرد رو به شهرت جهانی برسونه.
مطابق آخرین مطالعات دانشگاه لندن حدود یک سوم کارآفرینان موفق دچار این بی��اری هستن. اشخاص بزرگی مثل ریچارد برنسون، جان چیمبرز، چارلز شواب و بسیاری اسامی دیگر...

What is learned out of necessity is inevitably more powerful than the learning that comes easily.

کلا همه کتاب های مالکوم گلدول این سبک رو دنبال می کنن و سعیش در آشکار کردن زاویه های پنهان پدیده های مختلف هست. شاید خیلی از بررسی ها و نتیجه گیری هاش درست نباشن، اما از این جهت که یک دید جدید برای نگاه کردن به وقایع به خواننده هاش می ده بسیار ارزشمند هستند.

یکی دیگه از بخش های خوب کتاب بررسی مفهوم "خطای دور" هست و داستان جنگ جهانی و حمله هوایی آلمان ها به لندن رو بررسی می کنه و اینکه سران انگلیس چه هراس زیادی ��سبت به عواقب روانی این حملات داشتن و در شگفتی تمام دیدن این حملات نه تنها موجب روانی و شوکه شدن غالب مردم نشد، بلکه باعث شجاعت هرچه بیشترشون شد و همونطور که یکی از فصل های کتاب "جادوی اندیشه بزرگ" هم هست، مواجه شدن با ترس اون رو از بین می بره:

"We are all of us not merely liable to fear, we are also prone to be afraid of being afraid, and the conquering of fear produces exhilaration... The contrast between the previous apprehension of fear and the present relief and feeling of security promotes self-confidence that is the very father and mother of courage.

Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.

در بخش آخر هم کتاب مفاهیم قدرت و صلاحیت رو بررسی می کنه و به خوبی استدال می کنه که صرف داشتن قدرت علیه یک گروه یا ملت برای کنترل و داشتن فرمان برداریشون تا زمانی که اون قدرت همراه با صلاحیت نباشه به هیچ وجه کافی نیست و این خیال باطل صاحبان قدرت هست که در تکاپوی برقراری نظم دلخواهشون کار دستشون می ده:

It has been said that most revolutions are not caused by revolutionaries in the first place, but by the stupidity and brutality of governments.

جمع بندی
شخصا چند معیار برای سنجیدن و وزن دادن به کتاب ها دارم، و یکی از اون ها این هست که بعد از خوندن کتاب، آیا نگاه من به دنیا تغییر می کنه یا نه. از این جهت کتاب بسیار بسیار برای من ارزشمند بود و قطعا خوندنش رو به همه پیشنهاد می کنم.

لینک دریافت کتاب خدمت دوستان:
Profile Image for Ryan.
532 reviews
December 10, 2013
Chicken Soup for the Pop Psychologist's Soul. Or something like that.

The plural of anecdote is not data. And when Mr. Gladwell has a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That is, he is a very persuasive writer, but ultimately I'm not really convinced about all of his conclusions. Do I need to point out that as social science goes, this is heavy on the social and light on the science? You probably already knew that.

Anyway, I did enjoy this one. Everyone loves an underdog. And I enjoyed his retelling of certain historical events and eras. It makes me want to go back and do my own research on some of those stories to see how much of the telling is Gladwell's and how much is actually history.

I listened to this on audiobook, and Gladwell narrated. Excellent choice.
Profile Image for Aaron Thibeault.
57 reviews61 followers
October 22, 2013
*A full executive summary of this book is available here: http://newbooksinbrief.com/2013/10/22...

This book is not about underdogs and giants in any conventional sense of these terms. Rather, the book is about the curious nature of advantages and disadvantages, and how each can (under certain circumstances) become its opposite.

The first lesson to be learned is that the things we take to be advantages are often no such thing. Our greatest mistake here comes from the fact that we identify a certain quality or characteristic as being a benefit or advantage, and then assume that the more of it there is the better—when this is often not the case. Put another way, most of us recognize that it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and yet we fail to appreciate just how often and where this principle applies. For instance, we recognize that having a certain amount of money greatly facilitates raising children (it being very difficult to raise a family in a state of poverty), and yet we fail to recognize that beyond a certain point wealth also makes parenting increasingly difficult (for it becomes harder and harder to instill qualities of hard work and self-control). Or we recognize that small class sizes are a good thing, and yet we fail to recognize that classes can actually begin to suffer once they become too small (since diversity and energy begin to disappear).

Another arena wherein an advantage can become a disadvantage is in power and authority. Power and authority is an advantage, of course; however, when it is wielded illegitimately and without fairness, it can actually cause more chaos, destruction and violence than it curbs. This is as true in the classroom as it is in community policing as it is in handling minority groups within a nation’s borders.

The second lesson to be learned here is that certain disadvantages can sometimes drive people into positions of advantage. Take the disadvantage of being born with a disability, for example. Say dyslexia. In our modern world, where the ability to read is extremely important—and practically a requirement for success—having great difficulty with reading is a major disadvantage. And indeed the statistics indicate that the vast majority of those who are born dyslexic end up falling through the cracks and missing out on success.

Still, though, many dyslexics have gone on to become highly successful people; and it has also been noted that in certain fields (such as entrepreneurship) an inordinate proportion of the most successful individuals do, in fact, have dyslexia. So how can we explain these success stories? What we find in these cases is that these individuals have managed to compensate for their disability by developing skills that make up for their flaws (such as an improved memory or debating prowess). Thus, in a way, the successful dyslexic has actually benefited from his disability, because it has forced him into a position where he has had to develop other skills that have led him directly to success.

Also at play here is the fact that dyslexics tend to endure many failures when they are young. Repeated failures (especially at a young age) have the potential to crush the spirit. But they can also have the opposite effect: they can inure the individual to failure, thus making them more likely to take risks and try things that others wouldn’t—which is often a sure path to success.

A similar phenomenon also sometimes touches trauma victims. Take the ultimate trauma of losing a parent in childhood, for example. This is one of the worse experiences imaginable, and the trauma of losing a parent in childhood does indeed crush the vast majority of those who have the misfortune of enduring it.

Again, though, it has been noted that a very high proportion of highly successful individuals across many fields (from science to art to politics) have in fact lost a parent in childhood. And what we find in these cases is that the experience has left these individuals with the mind-set that now that they have endured such a terrible event, that nothing could ever be so bad. And thus they are liberated from the fear of failure, and—like the successful dyslexic—are willing to try things and take risks that others are not (which often leads directly to success).

The same experience and logic can also apply to underdog groups. For example, when a group recognizes that it is severely over-matched in terms of skill or strength compared to its opponent, it can begin to feel liberated to try unconventional tactics and approaches. This is often for the best, for it turns out that unconventional tactics and approaches are frequently very effective against giants—in everything from sports, to politics to war—and are, in many cases, the only chance the underdog has to win anyway. Again, then, in both of these instances (the trauma victim and the underdog group) a disadvantage has driven the party into a position of advantage, and thus the disadvantage may itself be seen as a kind of boon.

Gladwell has done well to make us rethink the nature of advantages and disadvantages across many fields. The only major flaw in the book, in my view, is the third and final part. The theme of the part is that power becomes less effective (or even counter-productive) when it is wielded illegitimately. The problem with this argument is that it's a classic case of the straw-man: Gladwell has set up an opposition that is very easy to defeat, and then smashed it to pieces. What's worse is that the examples Gladwell uses to prove his point here are quite weak. Still, there is much of value in the first 2 parts of the book. A full executive summary of the book is available here: http://newbooksinbrief.com/2013/10/22...
A podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,649 followers
December 3, 2013
As with everything Gladwell, this book is a fun and fast read that is not at all careful with its conclusions. It's not careful scholarship, but Gladwell doesn't claim it to me. In other words, he tells a story with great anecdotes and some data that doesn't always support the point he is making. However, I believe the point he is making in David and Goliath (that underdogs can have hidden strengths and that trials and tragedy can lead to strong character). The point is valid and the stories are riveting. As with all of his books, I learned a lot about some key historical figures as well as some key historical events and came away with a different perspective on my own assumptions. It was also an inspiring read and the stories were really well-written. But of course, I think he over-reaches in many of his conclusions.
Profile Image for Mohamed al-Jamri.
174 reviews116 followers
July 9, 2019
اقترح هذا الكتاب أحد بروفيسورات جامعتي في احدى محاضراته مؤخراً، ولذلك اقنعت ضميري بأنه لا بأس من التوقف عن المذاكرة قليلاً حتى إتمام هذا الكتاب والذي لا يتجاوز طوله الثلاث مئة صفحة أو سبع ساعات ككتاب مسموع. شجعتني أيضاً التقييمات الإيجابية التي سمعتها من بعض الأصدقاء لكتب أخرى لنفس الكاتب.

عنوان الكتاب هو داوود وجالوت وهي قصة موجودة في الإرث الديني للأديان الإبراهيمية (السماوية) تشير إلى انتصار الطرف الذي يبدو أضعف على الطرف الذي يبدو أقوى. يشير الكاتب منذ البداية على أن هذا الفهم للقصة خاطىء، فانتصار داوود كان محتما ﻷسباب كثيرة ولكن المشكلة هي في القراءة السطحية للأحداث والتي تدفع الطرف الضعيف في الغالب إلى اللعب بالطريقة التي يفرضها الطرف القوي وبالتالي يؤدي ذلك لزيادة فرص الخسارة.

نقطة أخرى يذكرها الكاتب وهي أن بعض الأمور والصعاب التي تبدو سلبية في أول الأمر تحمل في طياتها فوائد كثيرة لا يمكن استيعابها إلا لاحقاً. ويذكر أيضاً قاعدة لا إفراط ولا تفريط ويشير إلى أن المبالغة في أحد الأطراف يؤدي إلى نتائج عكسية

يستخدم الكاتب أسلوباً سلسا وممتعا في التقديم فينتقل من دوري كرة السلة للمدارس الأمريكية إلى لندن أثناء القصف في الحرب العالمية الثانية إلى المشاكل الطائفية في شمال إيرلندا إلى حركة الحقوق المدنية في أمريكا إلى تغليض العقوبات الجنائية في كاليفورنيا إلى عدد الطلاب في الفصول الدراسية إلى لورنس العرب والكثير غير ذلك.

الجميل في الموضوع والذي يميز الكاتب هو ربطه بين هذه الأمور ﻹيصال وتقوية الأفكار التي يطرحها. قد يؤخذ على الكاتب تكراره عدد كبير من الأمثلة لايصال فكرة لا يعارضها الكثيرون أصلاً مما قد يسبب الملل للبعض الذين قد يشعرون بأنهم يقرؤون نفس الفكرة مرة تلو الأخرى ولكن بالنسبة لي كان هذا الأمر ممتعاً جداً ولم أكن ﻷمانع لو أضاف المزيد من الأمثلة التاريخية؛ فأنا أعشق التاريخ.
Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 30 books415 followers
April 6, 2017
Malcolm Gladwell Surprises Again

Ever since I read Malcolm Gladwell’s breakthrough book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, I’ve been unable to resist any new book from this most devilishly clever of nonfiction writers. Gladwell’s mind doesn’t seem to work the way mine does, and, unless you’re remarkably eccentric, I suspect the same could be said of you.

David and Goliath is an excellent case in point. You might assume, as I so naturally did, that the Biblical tale of David and Goliath illustrates how the weak can overcome the strong. Certainly, that was how I was taught it as a child, and nothing I’ve learned since has led me to think otherwise. Leave it to Malcolm Gladwell to demonstrate that in reality this oft-told story demonstrates precisely the opposite. According to Gladwell (and to the numerous academic researchers whose work he cites), Goliath was massively vulnerable — in large part precisely because he was truly a giant — and David possessed an enormous advantage in his own right from the moment he walked onto the field of battle. The outcome of the battle was foreordained. Goliath’s great strength was in fact no advantage at all.

In this out-of-left-field manner, Gladwell draws diverse examples from all over the map to illustrate his principal points: overwhelming power can easily prove to be a disadvantage, while disability and weakness can lead to surprising success. Gladwell writes about how dyslexia has proven to be the hidden key to success among a great many highly successful people, including such notables as Richard Branson and Charles Schwab. Other examples in David and Goliath include the coach of an untalented middle-school girls’ basketball team who led them to a national championship by virtue of a strategy born of his ignorance of basketball, to K-12 teachers who demonstrate how small classes can be disadvantageous and big classes sometimes much better, to the British troops sent to quell the Irish Troubles, only to discover that their exercise of power backfired horribly.

David and Goliath is endlessly fascinating. It’s fully worthy of Malcolm Gladwell’s outstanding talent to illuminate our world in surprising ways.
Profile Image for Sarah.
111 reviews13 followers
September 4, 2014
This is the kind of book I would normally dismiss immediately, but as a book club pick I gave it a shot.

I started with a sample on my kindle, but after falling asleep several times reading that I transitioned to audio-book so I could listen while driving.

At about 3 chapters in, I wanted to quit. Both the content and the style of writing were the opposite of interesting to me.

Obviously the author is trying to make a point and I understood that all of the anecdotal comparisons should be leading me towards a conclusion of some kind.

But either I'm too dense, or it's too obvious. Because I have no idea what this book is about.

Story after story circles back making loose comparisons without much progression.

Bibles and basketball to class size and Impressionism. And on my side, a nap while trying to give it a listen on a Saturday afternoon.

After waking up... fish and ponds, and then dyslexia and so called "desirable difficulties". Whoa.

Note that some of the stories are interesting in themselves, but I think that the connections Gladwell is trying to make to prove his point are tenuous at best. They could also just be coincidences. Yes some people are successful despite overcoming difficulties, but many are not.

When he does make a point it seems almost a "gotcha" moment as you're wrapping up one story and he suddenly circles you back to something covered a chapter ago and tries to make a connection...

Maybe these times were an AHA moment for some, but I continued to be unimpressed.

Over halfway through was giving this a fair shake, I think, and turned my attentions to more interesting activities.

But then I just had to finish. I knew if I really wanted to write this review it had to be with a full knowledge of what the book entailed.

Apparently these books are popular because they translate the social sciences to the masses. And while I do think social sciences are interesting, results of these types of studies can be easily manipulated to make a point.

The Wall Street Journal's review sums it up nicely,
"Malcolm Gladwell too often presents as proven laws what are just intriguing possibilities and musings about human behavior."

The notion that a rule holds true except for when it doesn't runs through David and Goliath.

You can't make 300 pages out of interesting possibilities and musings. At least not one I want to read.

It seems to me that while there might be some bits to learn here, the whole thing is strung together with such tenuous threads it's hard to take any of it seriously.
Profile Image for M(^-__-^)M_ken_M(^-__-^)M.
347 reviews79 followers
January 8, 2023
To play by David’s rules you have to be desperate. You have to be so bad that you have no choice.

Miracle at Brighton brought me to this book, (Japan vs South Africa 2015 rugby world cup) feeling bad for Eddie Jones, well must laugh now at my traumatic expierience few years ago with junior rugby coaching was like herding stray cats and talking to parents an art in itself I was either rubbish or mediocre, mostly aimed for the short and sweet, dont get me wrong it was fun and my son and I can joke about it now and we do remind ourselves and it created good memories. Anyway back to this book it was great insightful and fun. Malcolm tells information in a simple to follow manner but the point is understood if I'm confused it clears quickly frankly in awe what the far.

No matter how daunting your problem appears there is an advantage and as the underdog this keeps you in the fight. But sometimes you got to call it a spade, accept defeat lick your wounds and return another day bright eyed and bushy tailed.

This Dad in one story a software engineer from India (cricket dominated) recently moving to the U.S with no idea how to play basketball but because of love went to coach his 12 year old daughters basketball team, he watched a few games and thought that's not how you should play, through careful look at the rules, training to be the fittest team out, a team which had never won a game he then takes this unlikely group to state finals and becomes a legend.

Malcolm talks of real world David and Goliath situations throughout the book, how these can help on some sort of personal level is beyond my intellect but there you go. There is the freshman who went to Brown University and struggled, to pass her exams. A young catholic mother trying to live a humble life in 1970s troubled northern Ireland in a protestant dominated neighborhood. Great book never heard of Malcolm Gladwell but thats not unusual, haven't heard of tons of shit ktk.
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews532 followers
September 19, 2018
Gladwell Dropped the Rock

I read this upon its publication a few years ago. I was disappointed because it was a real drop-off from Gladwell's previous books, such as Outliers: The Story of Success and, to a lesser degree, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. A few of his anecdotes, for example those relating to schooling, seemed a real stretch to support the book's theme of David v. Goliath. At times, it felt like he'd found some unrelated stories and tried to cobble them into a proof of his hypothesis.

I still appreciate Gladwell's work and his contribution to American letters. This appears to be an aberration.
Profile Image for Belhor Crowley.
112 reviews97 followers
September 13, 2016
I stayed up reading this book until I finished it, not only because I'm currently five books behind schedule and I just had two very big cups of tea, but also because this book, like most of Gladwell's other books, is very readable and engaging. Well at least it was to me! I am of course, aware of the criticism this book has received, and I agree that his arguments should be taken... well, not very seriously. But even so, I still believe much of his arguments will hold, at least partially. Gladwell sees things differently, and that is also one of the reasons why I enjoy reading his books! He has this thing were he can put a bunch of stuff together and come up with brilliant conclusions. I love that!
I struggled whether I should give this one five stars or four. It actually does matter to me! Stars aren't for free now are they?! I'm going to give this one four stars anyways.
Off to read more of Gladwell soon enough!
Profile Image for Adam Mohd Noor.
21 reviews17 followers
January 27, 2019
An intriguing and fascinating read which lets readers to travel through colourful case studies about characters ranging from misfits to underdogs who had overturned their difficulties and challenges in their respective social environments and natural
attributes i.e. difficult childhood, dyslexia, racial segregations etc. More importantly, Gladwell examines WHY underdogs succeed when odds are totally against them.

A wonderful counterintuitive exploration combining Gladwell's crafty, intoxicating storytelling with fascinating facts regarding cancer treatment, Battle of Britain, civil right movements and admission into elite institutions.

This book also serves an inspiring read for those who are struggling through bad times and inturn, teaches us to harness our disadvantages and compensate/consolidate it with our other strengths. For example, Gary Cohn (the former president and CEO of Goldman Sachs) was diagnosed with dyslexia.
Profile Image for Daniel Bastian.
86 reviews148 followers
February 6, 2021
Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.

Big insights are rare commodities. Unless, that is, you happen to be cycling through Gladwell territory, where tucked away inside every myth, anecdote, or counterintuitive result is a profound lesson about the human condition. This is harmless enough when confined to the fiction aisles of your local library, but Gladwell presents his ideas as scientifically respectable, even moving (well) beyond the academic literature and into high-concept generalization. And this is what gets him in the hot seat.

By now we're all familiar with Gladwell's tried and true formula: packaging a mixed bag of vignettes that loosely revolve around some common theme. His latest book, eponymous with the biblical tale implanted in every child's vocabulary, serves as the hub with which his assorted case studies can network. The humble stone-slinger slays the mighty warrior–the archetypal underdog story. Except Gladwell upends this classic tale and contends that any ostensible disadvantages on the part of David were actually aptitudes, and vice versa for Goliath. After some offbeat meta-analysis of the Hebrew account, he intones the book's central theme:

There is a set of advantages that have to do with material resources, and there is a set that have to do with the absence of material resources – and the reason underdogs win as often as they do is that the latter is sometimes every bit the equal of the former.” (pp. 24-25)

Now there's a heartwarming idea giftwrapped in persuasive prose. One of Time's most influential people of 2005, Gladwell's ability to craft absorbing narrative merits the lavish acclaim from the popular press, but the accolades stop there. His cultivated habit of extrapolating grand truths from flimsy research has proved time and again his Achilles' heel. The anecdotes he recounts stand by themselves and gain nothing by being tangled in with pop-psychology, especially when there is actual peer-reviewed research into many of the areas Gladwell touches.

Gladwell leans all of his weight on a small-sampled (read: underpowered) study which found that less legible fonts activated higher performance in students, presumably because the students worked through the problems more slowly in order to decode the typeface. Yet, as psychology professor Christopher F. Chabris points out, Gladwell conveniently omits any reference to the replication studies (of superior statistical power) that failed to reproduce this result. That the study Gladwell makes such heavy weather of is plagued with sampling, selection effect, and other confounds does not bode well for his thesis.

Pesky details are of trifling importance to Gladwell, who steers the data in directions both cliched and maudlin. Were we to find life on the moons of Saturn, he would undoubtedly apply his guiding principles there as well; so sure is Gladwell that this obscure study holds the key to overcoming life’s obstacles that he applies it to dyslexia, claiming that inbuilt disadvantages generate asymmetrical success stories. Replication results notwithstanding, are we to really believe that the authors of the typeface study suppose their findings reveal some deep lesson about turning adversity into triumph? Gladwell may be a lot of things but mantic isn’t one of them. You could fill a supertanker with all of the sociological and psychological layers pushed to the periphery in favor of his handpicked fiction.

The balance of his thesis rests on self-reported anecdote by real-life Davids who faced down their own Goliaths. There is nothing so prescient as hindsight, especially when other factors stab at the provocative narrative hanging in the balance. Complications be damned: it can only be adversity that produces successful outcomes which, curiously, seems to knock against his thesis in Outliers (2008), which replaces adversity with caprice and right-place right-timeness. How many rabbits will he pull out of the same hat before even his unsuspecting readership cry foul?

And it gets worse for Gladwell. One need not inventory his entire catalog, as his scuffles with internal contradiction can be found in adjoining chapters of David and Goliath. After tagging dyslexia as a "desirable difficulty" that breeds success, he juxtaposes a story about a would-be scientist who dropped out of school because she encountered undesirable difficulties at a renowned university. By relying on Gladwell's vacuum-packed logic of the preceding chapters, one is left scratching his head as to why the "small-fish-big-pond" schematic wasn't parlayed into the successes afforded the world's dyslexics. For Gladwell, it seems, difficulty is a good thing until it isn't, which smells as fallacy-laden as the aphorism 'If you're not early you're late.'

Or as Christopher Chabris puts it in his blue-chip review in the Wall Street Journal:

"The idea that difficulty is good when it helps you and bad when it doesn't is no great insight."

Even his deconstruction of the David and Goliath bout diverges from the core theme he attempts to build throughout the book. Gladwell tells us plainly that David actually had the sizable advantage since lithe marksmen were always favored over cumbrous infantrymen clad in heavy armor. Within the conventional confines of ancient warfare, it was Goliath who was the decided underdog. Why then did this strategic imbalance, along with his hypothesized acromegaly condition, not spur Goliath to victory as it did the dyslexic CEOs or Vivek Ranadivé’s middle school basketball team, or steel his resolve as with the near-miss survivors during the Battle of Britain?

For a more hyperbolic but just as on-target commentary, see Daniel Engber's review in Slate:

"The notion that a rule holds true except for when it doesn’t runs through David and Goliath, and insulates its arguments from deep interrogation. Is it really advantageous to have severe dyslexia? Yes, and certainly not. Are children better off without their parents? Don’t be silly, but it could be so. These non-answers rub the dazzle from Gladwell’s clever thesis statements, until they all begin to look like dullish intuition. We don’t need another book to tell us that adversity can lead to greatness (see: memoirs by CEOs, episodes of The Moth, every college essay ever written), just as we don’t need another book to say that adversity really, really sucks (see: the world outside your window). But couched in the golden armor of anecdote, Gladwell’s overgrown ideas seem powerful and new."

What's perhaps most unforgivable about Gladwell's tactics is that he, whether wittingly or no, ignores the relevant research into the very topics he covers. For example, why not mention the ongoing research on the comparative value of attending elite vs. non-elite schools? Why not discuss the actual research on age-specific impairments of dyslexia? Or why not, even if only in one of his many footnotes, source the relevant literature for the science behind "desirable difficulty"? [1] [2] Probably because this complicates the narrative. But drawing on unrelated research that supports your thesis at a minimally conceptual level while ignoring the more relevant research extant is what we call cherry-picking. Subsequently presenting this research as though it models macroscale principles about the nature of reality is shifty behavior, to put it mildly.

Closing Thoughts

Even with the outpouring of negative reaction from various quarters of the blogosphere, Gladwell's literary talents remain as agile as ever. His ability to locate and draw out the most moving aspects of the human stories he collects is on full display here. But this savoriness is perpetually undermined by his messy forays into social science, in which he scavenges the academic literature for nuggets that can be spun into a thematic web. In David and Goliath this web frequently unravels into muddled contradiction. The quickening stories he inflects through fluid prose work well on their own, even in their romanticized state, but Gladwell seems unable to fight the compulsion to reach for obscure, underpowered, unreplicated studies to which he can fasten his larger than life lessons. Despite this awkward matrimony often borne out in the pages of his books, I suspect most readers are none too interested in Gladwell's fidelity to scientific wisdom but rather are lulled by the melody around which all good storytelling harmonizes.

Note: This review is republished from my official website.
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