To start: I know that David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell isn’t an established book of short stories. But it is a set of short stories told in a manner that intertwines events and principles to bring the audiences attention to a fact that exists below our radar. This book is dedicated to the idea of the underdog as well as both the correct and incorrect assumptions that we make when observing the plights of the underdog. What Gladwell has to say is that the one who seems to have all the disadvantages is misunderstood. In fact, Gladwell insists that they often have all the advantages they need to be victorious in whatever endeavor they find themselves engaged. They just have to learn to make their own rules of engagement.
Was David at a real disadvantage when fighting Goliath? Was he that one in a million that managed to defeat an unbeatable foe? Malcolm Gladwell takes a closer look at this scenario as well as many others including the benefits of small vs. large classroom size, the effects of greater violence to subdue crime and rebellion, the success of the Civil Rights Movement, and more. He challenges our perceptions of what is beneficial and what is a hindrance in accomplishing a goal, and shows us that what we perceive as weaknesses are often strengths that we need to learn how to use.
I am always blown away when I read Gladwell’s books. His observations, his writing voice, and his style of presentation and arguments combined make an exceptional book that is both engaging and enlightening. For me at least, “enlightening” is a perfect word to use. While I read I found myself stopping regularly to think about what was said, evaluating the situation myself based on the information in front of me, and often finding that I couldn’t help but agree with the points being made. This is in part to the highly charismatic and convincing way in which Gladwell writes, but also to the bulk of evidence both historical and scientific used to support his point.
I had only one complaint about this book and it has to do with one of the chapters. In this chapter Gladwell is discussing the idea of a little fish in a big pond and big fish in a small pond (I know I didn’t get that right but I can’t find the quote at the moment). The individual he’s chosen as his model is a woman who was an exceptional student with a passion for science. Being accepted to two schools, one of them Ivy League and the other not, she chose to go to the Ivy League school. The result was catastrophic for her chosen field of study. Going from the top of her class she now struggled with her classes and began to feel she wasn’t good enough to be in the science program she had wanted to pursue. As a result she ended up dropping out and changing her major. The story examines the strengths of the smaller schools that are often seen as weaknesses when compared to the best schools in the nation, but that wasn’t what bothered me. What smarted was the way in which Gladwell made it seem like the arts were for people who weren’t good enough for science. As an English major one could see how that might hurt. It was a little more painful in that I had considered to pursue engineering but decided against it. Not because I didn’t think I was good enough, but I felt impressed to pursue my current focus. I found myself asking myself, am I not smart enough for the sciences?
Looking back on the section I realize that I was being very silly, that Gladwell, being a writer, doesn’t look down on the arts in any way but was using this example to support his point. I am smart enough to pursue engineering if I so desired; it just wouldn’t be very practical to change majors at this point when I have a year left before I graduate.
Overall, I would say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. The historical information was fascinating, the analysis was convincing, and the voice was entertaining, but the reason I look at this book with such high esteem is because it inspired me. I don’t know how may of you have felt like an underdog at one point or another in your life, but I have. I do now as I try and try and TRY to write a book. Who is the oppressing force that threatens to overwhelm me? I don’t know and that’s the part that makes it so hard. Myself perhaps? My own subconscious telling me that I can’t do it, that if I managed to write a book it would be terrible, that no matter how much I practice I’ll never be good enough? Well, after reading this book I have considered how I can change the rules of engagement. Reading David and Goliath has inspired me to reach outside of my box to attempt a new way of approach that will allow me to move past the feelings of inadequacy and shrug off those who don’t think I’ll succeed. Everyone is an underdog at some point in their lives. Whether we are victorious or dragged down in defeat is dependent on our ability to use what we’ve got to our greatest advantage.