David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Book Review By Daniel R. Murphy

Title and Author:  David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Synopsis of Content:

The sub-title to this book describes its contents in one sense, “Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants”. It may also have been called, “the limited power of the powerful”.

Despite myths like David and Goliath we most often assume that those in power and those with power will prevail over the weaker side in any contest. Gladwell tells us a number of true stories, beginning with David and Goliath that show how and why the more powerful side in a dispute or battle may often not win. He illustrates how the “weaker” party can use their perceived weakness as a strength and prevail. He shows how the abuse of power can be self-defeating.

He shows how a novice coach who knew nothing about basketball led his team to victory over better trained teams. He demonstrates how smaller class sizes in schools do not always provide better education. The theme continues with how attending the most prestigious universities may not be the best choice for students; the power, for some, of disabilities such as dyslexia; and struggles by those in the civil rights movement and during war that defeated a more powerful foe.

From these stories he argues certain principles: that there are disadvantages to advantage; and advantages to disadvantage; that challenge and difficulty can produce strength; that there are inherent limits to power; and that power itself, used in smaller doses can be more effective, but used in larger doses can backfire.

Gladwell also admits there are limits to these theories. At times the more powerful do win, perhaps in the majority of situations. But if the underdog is cunning enough and brave enough and perhaps most importantly persistent enough the underdog can often win over the more powerful foe.

The lessons offered by this book have many applications. For the parent who wants to be effective guiding children, the supervisor or manager who wants to use his authority wisely to direct employees, the government leader who wishes to mobilize support for a proposal or the person fighting the uphill battle against those with greater perceived power there are valuable lessons in this book.

The lessons here are not that the weak always prevail against the strong. In fact the author acknowledges that more often the strong prevail against the weak. His challenge to us is to redefine strong and weak. His point is that though not always, very often what we perceive as weakness can possess strength and what we perceive as strength can be weak and in those situations the weak will prevail over the strong.

What I found useful about this book:
The stories Gladwell tells us provide an engaging read that gives dimension and power to the principles he is conveying. This is not a dry book about politics or power, this is an engaging book about people and how they use, misuse and lose power over others.

Readability/Writing Quality:  
The book is very well written as with all of Gladwell’s work. The story telling makes it read much like a light novel. It is difficult to put down. He does a masterful job of linking one concept and example with another.

Notes on Author:
Malcolm Gladwell is a journalist and author. He has been a staff writer for the New Yorker since 1996.

Other Books by This Author:

What the Dog Saw
The Tipping Point
Blink
Outliers

Related Website:
http://gladwell.com/david-and-goliath/

Three Great Ideas You Can Use:

  1. Our perception of power and weakness can be deceiving. Human interaction is complex and a “weaker” person with sufficient persistence and intelligence can often overcome or outwit a more powerful opponent.
  2. Those in power should never assume they are guaranteed to prevail because of their power. The abuse of power can delegitimize one such that one loses influence – one’s power becomes less effective.
  3. Those fighting abusive power must remember that if the persist and if they exercise flexibility and adaptability against more powerful but usually less flexible opponents they have a significant chance of attaining what they want.

Publication Information:  

Title and Author: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Copyright holder: 2013 by Malcolm Gladwell

Publisher: Back Bay Books / Little, Brown and Company

Buy the book here:

Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.
www.danielrmurphy.com