Even though I’ve know about Malcolm Gladwell for years with his Blink and The Tipping Point books, I’ve never read anything by him. I have all these books, but they are sitting, sitting, sitting. I’ve had several people talk to me about David and Goliath since last spring, and finally decided to read something by him. I certainly was glad that I did.
The subtitle to David and Goliath is “Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.” Gladwell takes us through several situations where David defeats Goliath, and why he was able to do so. This is meant literally (Gladwell begins with the Biblical narrative) and figuratively. He has so many stories about this, from French painters to a children’s cancer doctor to the civil rights movement to the struggle in Northern Ireland. These are stories that I have not thought much about before this book.
The principle that Gladwell uses often is the inverted U graph to discuss how an advantage eventually gives way to becoming a disadvantage. There is a point, he says, that parents with financial means actually help parent kids better. Eventually on the graph, there is a point when too much money becomes a disadvantage in that child’s life (think of those spoiled, rich-kid snotbags you probably met in college). This inverted U graph is used to show how small class sizes many actually be a detriment in effective teaching. We can all agree that 45 kids per class is a problem, but only nine kids in a class is also a problem. He continues the focus on education by showing how a bright student named Caroline chose Brown University over University of Maryland—an inverted U shaped advantage in college prestige—and that sapped her of her desire to pursue science. This story was certainly the one that will stick most with me for some reason.
I love how Gladwell continually looks at what the advantage each person in this assortment has, and how that “slingshoted” him to victory over the giants. It felt similar to Freakonomics in that he was also looking at “the hidden side of everything.”
I enjoyed this, and I’m happy to have finally read this guy.
Here’s something that will intrigue you as it did me. This photo, THE defining photograph of the civil rights movement, was staged by Wyatt Walker. Read to book to find out how.