Book Review: David and Goliath – Malcolm Gladwell

DavidAndGoliath2by Deana Chadwell    11/19/13
I just finished a fascinating book – Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. It was hard to put down; even the footnotes were interesting and I quickly realized that I didn’t want to skip them. The title is a little misleading in and of itself; it needs the subtitle, Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.

Gladwell does spend the intro discussing the famous Israeli/Philistine battle and I learned a great deal because he talked about the event from the perspective of military tactics. His thesis is not about David’s spiritual maturity vs. evil, but about David’s correct assessment of the military situation and his confidence in breaking battle tradition in his method of attack. I learned a lot about Goliath, too – the poor man didn’t have a chance.

The rest of the book discusses case history after case history – all of them enthralling – and each, in its own way, illustrating Gladwell’s point – the perceived advantages are not necessarily advantages, and vise versa. He covers famous folks – Martin Luther King Jr. – but mainly behind-the-scenes people – the man who propelled medicine into a cure for childhood leukemia, — a lawyer, a banker, a girls’ basketball coach, people who survived the Blitz. His examples are random, so I never had any idea what was ahead, except that I knew the story would be well told and well worth knowing about.

He elaborated on his thesis exploring differing kinds of “advantages” – everything from Ivy League schools or small classrooms to looking at the gritty moral choices needed to become a winner. Whatever facets of his thesis he explores, he presents a fresh new perspective. The closing of his introductory remarks on the famous biblical story says it all,

What the Israelites saw, from high on the ridge, was an intimidating giant. In reality, the very thing that gave the giant his size was also the source of his greatest weakness. There is an important lesson in that for battles with all kinds of giants. The powerful and the strong are not always what they seem.

David came running toward Goliath, powered by courage and faith. Goliath was blind to his approach – and then he was down, too big and slow and blurry-eyed to comprehend the way the tables had been turned. All these years, we’ve been telling these kinds of stories wrong. David and Goliath is about getting them right.

Deana Chadwell blogs at • (1851 views)

Deana Chadwell

About Deana Chadwell

I have spent my life teaching young people how to read and write and appreciate the wonder of words. I have worked with high school students and currently teach writing at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. I have spent more than forty years studying the Bible, theology, and apologetics and that finds its way into my writing whether I'm blogging about my experiences or my opinions. I have two and a half moldering novels, stacks of essays, hundreds of poems, some which have won state and national prizes. All that writing -- and more keeps popping up -- needs a home with a big plate glass window; it needs air; it needs a conversation. I am also an artist who works with cloth, yarn, beads, gourds, polymer clay, paint, and photography. And I make soap.
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4 Responses to Book Review: David and Goliath – Malcolm Gladwell

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I’ve long thought that advantages and disadvantages were closely linked. It all depends on how you make use of them.

  2. Kung Fu Zu says:

    This is why I tell kids to take your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. It makes them access themselves and then the world and how they can succeed.

    Clarity is an amazing thing.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    A certain level of competency and function is desired, if not required, to be an effective human being. Imbalances and flaws can too easily be romanticized. Many we should rightly run away from or try to cure.

    That said, utopian societies as conceived in fiction (which surely derives from real human desires and realities) typically portray an emergent dystopia. Human beings, carved and starved of individuality and made to live perfectly in a cloud of satisfied stupor, become capable of little more than a stylish slouch. Creativity, rather than being enhanced, is starved by a lack of struggle and thus of meaning.

    When all our needs are met (by others), we become worse than slugs, as anyone aware of generational welfare can testify. We need a certain amount of struggle, whether regarding external or internal sources. Complete blissful homeostasis (such that it is ever blissful) is simply a living death of mind, spirit, and energy.

    Those not born of the political correct, anti-male world we now inhabit might well remember that such things as “attention deficit disorder” and even milder forms of autism (what many in the know call “artistic,” at least in regards to males) seem to be manufactured diseases. Males have an “imbalanced” ability (according to the female-led utopianists) to focus to the exclusion of all else. And of course this power will, in our feminist culture, be seen as a disease to be cured, if only because deep in the minds of feminists they know that such traits give males an advantage.

    Surely there are female analogues to this (and surely feminists have worked long and hard to “cure” women of these traits as well…traits that they have politically deemed a weakness). Homeostasis, perfect balance, perfect symmetry, are not the creators of the interesting bits in life. Sometimes, indeed, those imbalances can create horrible things as well. But the naval-gazing, perfectly content and “centered” Buddhist-like conception of the ultimate state of mankind has been grossly over-rated by those with shallow, pop-culture sensibilities.

    • Bravo and well said. I suspect that it is our inability to handle our prosperity ( i.e. the lack of struggle) that is ruining our national character. If we don’t suffer, we get to thinking that we don’t need God, and if we don’t need Him, we stop following His instructions, stop humbly asking for His guidance, all hell breaks loose.

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