David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell Review

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell is a journey through a number of unexpectedly beneficial events that unravel because of situations that seem disadvantageous. The book compiles a series of stories which connect to the greater idea that although something may seem to be disadvantageous to a person, it can prove to benefit them in the end.  Gladwell utilizes a variety of themes within his collection of stories, ranging from World War, crime, discrimination, disability, employment, and education, to sports to support his thesis that thinking about an obstacle in a different way can lead to overcoming that obstacle.  Each of the stories were examined in a specific way, reinforcing his central idea that underdogs and misfits often have the ability to turn their unpleasant situations into blissful endings, through hard work and determination.

The author, Malcolm Gladwell, studied at The University of Toronto, wrote for The Washington Post, and The New Yorker. Malcolm Gladwell has had four books on the New York Times best sellers list, which included Outliers, Blink, The Tipping point and David and Goliath. I had never read a book written by Gladwell; however, I was intrigued to find out why his work was so popular. Out of the titles I saw, David and Goliath stood out the most since the underlying caption on the cover was “Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants”. Being a student who has never been at the top of the class, I often consider myself to be an underdog; I figured that I may find some strategies to succeed through reading this book. After reading the book I realised that to succeed, it is not necessarily what you do differently; it is that you think differently.

I expect the content of the book to age well because regardless of the times, there will always be readers who still appreciate reading the classics.  The old-world charm and literary values that are present in such epics cannot be matched in today’s world of sci-fi thrillers and vampire romances. There are always life lessons to be learnt from reading such literary novelties.  I believe that if people use what they have to their advantage, rather than focusing on their disadvantages, they will be able to achieve their goals. These stories demonstrate that misfits and underdogs have the upper hand in many situations, when their willpower and determination are utilized to achieve what they want most.  Such lessons will still be relevant to people years from now.  Historical events such as the World Wars, and the American Civil Rights Movement, will continue to prove that although a person or group is considered unlikely to succeed, they can succeed with the right mindset and work ethic.

The title of the book is not indicative of what the theme will be. The story of David and Goliath is one of the many examples used to connect to Gladwell’s theme that being in a position which seems to have a lower hand is not necessarily a problematic thing. Gladwell explains that in order for people to succeed they must find the benefits of being in their position, and use  them to their advantage.  For those who do not know the story of David and Goliath, it is summarized in the first section of the book.  The biblical story is one where the unlikeliest underdog (David) succeeds by using Goliath’s arrogance against him during battle.  Throughout the book Gladwell connects important themes from the story to the idea that underdogs and misfits do not have to, and should not, consider themselves disadvantaged. The story of David and Goliath is connected to Gladwell’s theme of having faith in one’s self, it is demonstrated in David’s behaviour as he steps up in a seemingly hopeless battle. Furthermore, David exemplifies a person who focuses on what good can come from being in his position, uses it to his advantage and consequently he defeats Goliath. David, who was not the same size, and did not have the same armour as Goliath, used Goliath’s naivety to kill him by targeting Goliath’s unprotected head.

To read this book no background information is necessary. All of the stories, ideas and concepts discussed are explained in relevance to the overall theme that the book imbibes.  One can overcome seemingly-disadvantageous situations with the right mindset.  I think that anyone with a high-school education could benefit from reading this book.  Its supporting evidence advises that by changing one’s perception of their difficulties, they can find advantages within them, enabling them to make significant changes for the better.  For example, Gladwell points out that dyslexia can prove to be advantageous, even in university.  One story explains how trial lawyer, David Boies (a dyslexic), found ways of dealing with his inability to read, which proved to benefit him and assisted him in overcoming his difficulty.  David was able to develop strong listening skills which allowed him to recall things that were spoken or read to him.  Although he was unable to quickly read through files, he was able to process and retain anything said to him on demand.  David utilized his dyslexia to his advantage and consistently worked at improving himself and his reading, writing and listening skills.  To understand a story in this book, such as David Boies’, one would not require prior knowledge of his background because the underlying themes are explained coherently throughout.

The book is readable and factually accurate.  The book includes a Reference Notes section, showing from where Gladwell had retrieved his information.  Additionally, there are footnotes, explaining points, images, charts and graphs found in many sections of the book.  The language is simple, and easy for most to follow.  Some stories are relayed almost conversationally; the language is natural which makes the book an easy read. The examples are stated, explained, and then coherently traced back to underlying themes of the book.  None of the examples seemed irrelevant or unnecessary.  Each example was different, yet connected in one way or another to the art of finding benefit in seemingly-detrimental situations.

There are no illustrations in this book. There is one image that reappears because when looked at under different contexts, Gladwell explains, it has changed meaning.  The image seems to be of a young African American boy, during the American Civil Rights Movement, standing calmly as a police dog is charging at him. At first glance at the image it seems as though the boy is surrendering to the dog. After closer examination it appears that the boy was not surrendering, he was defending himself by pushing the dog back with his leg. Although the boy seemed to be helpless in that situation he thought quickly, protected himself, and made the police look as if they were completely heartless in the eyes of the media. Although the boy had the underhand, he made the best of the situation; additionally the photograph attracted a lot of attention from the media making him seem like a martyr, giving an edge to those involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Other visuals in this book include graphs and charts, which illustrate statistics pertaining to crime and education. Each visual is tied into an explanation, and accordingly they are aimed at further demonstrating Gladwell’s point. Gladwell points out that it is often beneficial for a student to choose their second choice for university. Although attending a prestigious school looks better on a résumé, it can actually reduce a student’s chance of succeeding in their prospective field which is shown in several charts. Gladwell’s ideas on people succeeding in unlikely positions also lead to the idea that those who are considered likely to succeed often are not successful.

An improvement that I would suggest for this book would be adding a section where the names and faces could be connected. For example, having an extended background on the characters discussed in the book, such as where they ended up, or where they are now, would be interesting to read.  Additionally I would have liked to hear of Gladwell’s experiences in being a misfit or an underdog and how he overcame his challenges, at some point in the book.  There is not much explanation as to the inspiration of the book, which would have been interesting to know, but it is not detrimental to the overall message. Otherwise, the notes and index included were effective and need not be changed.

After reading David and Goliath I find myself rethinking the way I look at challenges. Just because a situation seems difficult to succeed in does not mean that it is impossible to prove to have the upper-hand. Certain life experiences seem to be inconvenient, but when considered from a changed perception, those inconveniences prove to be advantages in the end. I would recommend this book to my peers, especially those in post-secondary education since at many points we collectively feel like underdogs who are unlikely to succeed. I believe through reading this book people will be able to revaluate how they think of situations they are faced with. Malcolm Gladwell connects the series of stories to the idea that one can have the upper-hand even if they are considered as a misfit or underdog.

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