David and Goliath
By Malcolm Gladwell
Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2013
Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath, is really a collection of stories, variations on the theme of lopsided conflicts, of the weak prevailing against the strong.
Apparent strength can mask great weakness, and there are often diminishing returns, even negative returns, when you rely on them too much. Conversely, weaknesses are often overcome by effort, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and courage – formerly hidden or unknown strengths.
In each chapter of David and Goliath, Gladwell tells the story of either an individual or a group prevailing against overwhelming odds or disadvantages. There’s a chapter about David Boies, for example, a well-known trial lawyer achieving remarkable career success despite a life-long struggle with dyslexia. There’s the story of how the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland was able to withstand the might of the British Army during the Troubles. And of course he shows how everything you thought you know about the biblical story of David and Goliath is wrong.
There are inspiring stories about people overcoming great hardships, and there are cautionary tales about over-reliance on force and power. Many of the stories are both.
My only quibble with the book is that it’s a little light. The main idea about victorious underdogs isn’t especially novel and there’s less in-depth exploration than in most of Gladwell’s other books.
Still Galdwell has always been a terrific storyteller. (In fact, he not only writes well, he speaks well too as you can tell from this TED Talk.) David and Goliath is no exception. You can read any one chapter pretty much stand-alone and get a good sense of the whole book, but they’re all interesting and worthwhile.