Malcolm Gladwell has written many books that pose fascinating questions (Blink, Outliers, Tipping Point, David & Goliath). He researches answers to certain questions and comes up with some surprising conclusions. Some find his books too anecdotal and not scientific enough, while others think his writing is quite approachable and instructive. Either way, it’s usually quite interesting! These are some of the questions in this one: How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Why are campus sexual assaults on the rise? Do television sitcoms teach us something about the way we relate to each other that isn’t true?
What do these questions all have in common? The tools we use to make sense of people we don’t know are perhaps not as reliable as we think. We default to trust and truth and generally believe what people say, perhaps more than we should. Gladwell narrates the audio version of the book himself and when he revisits the arrest of Sandra Bland, the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, and the suicide of Sylvia Plath, you hear directly from many of the players in these real-life tragedies. Just be warned that some of Gladwell’s dramatic descriptions relating to sexual violence and suicide might be disturbing or triggering for some.
Guest Post: Dirk Booy
I find that you either really like Malcolm Gladwell’s writing or you really don’t. His critics (there are many) argue that he over simplifies scientific data to support his story telling. His supporters (he is a best selling author) like the way he offers a contrarian view of social and psychological research and explains it all in great stories of real people. His facts don’t always hold together well and his choice of research is very selective, but his stories make you feel good and believe that things can be different.
‘David and Goliath’ follows the tried and true strategy that has made Gladwell’s other books a success. In this book his main premise is that ‘the powerful are not as powerful as they seem – nor the weak as weak’. In the well known story of David and Goliath, Gladwell argues that David was not the underdog in the story – poor Goliath didn’t know what hit him! David’s sling had the power of a ‘fair sized hand gun’ and could easily penetrate Goliath’s skull. Goliath on the other hand was probably suffering from a medical condition that not only affected his size but also his eyesight – he probably didn’t even see David coming. It was in fact, an unfair fight (the other way around).
Using this theme of underdogs that are really advantaged, Gladwell takes the reader through story after story reinforcing the argument that obstacles and disabilities aren’t always what they seem to be. Deep down, he is hitting a desire we all have for the underdog to win. His stories are interesting and touching; his questions, not as provoking as they are reinforcing; and his arguments more possibilities than facts. Nevertheless, it is a good read.
Gladwell by his own admission is a story teller who wants to challenge the way we think about our world. In David and Goliath he doesn’t so much change the way we think as reinforce what we like to hear. It is in our weakness that we are the strongest.
TED Talk: Malcolm Gladwell: The unheard story of David and Goliath