David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants is Malcolm Gladwell’s latest effort at helping people understand the world around them. As in his previous books such as Outliers and The Tipping Point, Gladwell draws upon psychology, business, history, and his penchant for storytelling to describe how the world is not what it seems at first glance.
Gladwell frames the book with the story of David and Goliath. He retells the story to describe how the odds were seemingly stacked against David, a humble shepherd, who decided to fight Goliath, a superhuman trained in various combat styles and armed with heavy weapons. As we know, David won the battle in short measure because he used his knowledge and skill to his advantage. Gladwell makes the point, “effort can trump ability.”
Gladwell uses several examples to illustrate how people born to difficult circumstances can rise above their challenges in spite of their limitations. In fact, they may succeed even more than people without these challenges. For example, Gladwell wrote about Brian Grazer, the successful film producer. Grazer was born with dyslexia and did not do well in school, but he intentionally worked on his skills of negotiation and persuasion to his advantage. Gladwell observed, “Dyslexia—in the best of cases—forces you to develop skills that might otherwise have lain dormant.”
Gladwell also discovered that many successful people had lost their fathers at a young age. He cites one study which revealed that 45 percent of successful people had lost their fathers before age twenty. Another study showed that 67 percent of prime ministers lost a parent before the age of sixteen. Gladwell stated, “the question of what any of us would wish on our children is the wrong question, isn’t it? The right question is whether we as a society need people who have emerged from some kind of trauma—and the answer is that we plainly do.”
The author’s thesis goes against conventional wisdom. Successful people come from all walks of life. However, people with outwardly crippling disabilities or potentially devastating setbacks may indeed succeed in spite of their weaknesses. They are motivated precisely because of their perceived lowly station in life. They defeat Goliath at his own game.
Gladwell summed up his book thus: “so much of what is beautiful and valuable in the world comes from the shepherd, who has more strength and purpose than we ever imagine. “
Thoughtful, relevant, and inspiring.
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