Saturday, October 14, 2017

Book Review: 'David and Goliath' by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is a consummate storyteller whose works of non-fiction often challenge conventional wisdom. In "David and Goliath," Gladwell's topic is "underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants." He looks into what happens when individuals are forced to confront "powerful opponents of all kinds--from armies and mighty warriors to disability, misfortune, and oppression."

At times, Gladwell veers a bit from his central thesis, such as when he debunks the notion that small class size increases student achievement. Whether or not decreasing class size is desirable, it is only marginally connected to the "David and Goliath" theme. On the other hand, Gladwell effectively shows how some dyslexics, in spite of their learning difficulties, go on to achieve fame and fortune. In addition, he provides examples from the worlds of sports, academia, and business of individuals who think out of the box and take the road less traveled. They ultimately achieve more than they ever anticipated.

"David and Goliath," thanks to Gladwell's well-told anecdotes, research, and interviews, is entertaining and inspiring. Time and again, we see examples of ordinary people overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. On the other hand, "the best-intentioned application of power and authority," if it is applied unfairly or seems illegitimate, often backfires. To support his ideas, Gladwell brings examples from the Impressionist movement in art; the German aerial bombardment of London; the annals of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement; the bloody struggles in Northern Ireland; and the efforts of an iconoclastic physician who used a hitherto unproven treatment to give young leukemia victims a chance at survival.

In a particularly dramatic chapter, the author relates the exploits of a courageous French Protestant pastor who defied the Vichy government and saved many Jewish lives during World War II. Gladwell impresses us with his fresh perspectives, counterintuitive arguments, and colorful tales of the little guy or gal beating the odds and coming out on top. Underdogs succeed because they are willing to take risks, be creative, break the rules, and do whatever they can to turn disadvantages into advantages.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right

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