Reviews for David and Goliath : Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

Booklist Reviews 2013 October #1
*Starred Review* Gladwell's best-sellers, such as The Tipping Point (2000) and Outliers (2008), have changed the way we think about sociological changes and the factors that contribute to high levels of success. Here he examines and challenges our concepts of "advantage" and "disadvantage" in a way that may seem intuitive to some and surprising to others. Beginning with the classic tale of David and Goliath and moving through history with figures such as Lawrence of Arabia and Martin Luther King Jr., Gladwell shows how, time and again, players labeled "underdog" use that status to their advantage and prevail through the elements of cunning and surprise. He also shows how certain academic "advantages," such as getting into an Ivy League school, have downsides, in that being a "big fish in a small pond" at a less prestigious school can lead to greater confidence and a better chance of success in later life. Gladwell even promotes the idea of a "desirable difficulty," such as dyslexia, a learning disability that causes much frustration for reading students but, at the same time, may force them to develop better listening and creative problem-solving skills. As usual, Gladwell presents his research in a fresh and easy-to-understand context, and he may have coined the catchphrase of the decade, "Use what you got." Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2013 October
Bet on the little guy

From The Tipping Point (2000) onward, Malcolm Gladwell has made a specialty of gathering commonly accessible facts and viewing them from uncommon—and often surprising—perspectives. In David and Goliath, he seizes on the fable of the title to undergird his thesis that “the powerful are not as powerful as they seem—nor the weak as weak.” In his eyes, David had the edge over Goliath from the start, not just because he possessed a superior weapons system—the far-reaching sling vs. the short-range spear and sword—but also because he imposed his own rules of combat instead of conceding to Goliath’s.

Gladwell goes on to argue that conditions first seen as adverse or limiting can actually be turned into wellsprings of strength. Thus, large classes may be better for students than small ones; attending a top university may be the worst (or, at least, the most discouraging) educational choice; getting tougher on crime may actually increase crime as well as create other social disorders; being dyslexic or losing a parent at an early age may make one more persistent and intellectually agile than being able to read easily or having the comfort of a two-parent family; kids who don’t grow up playing basketball (for example) may approach the game in such fresh ways that they outscore kids who do; and people who are confronted en masse by life-threatening dangers—whether it be the bombing of London in World War II, the violent suppression of Civil Rights demonstrations in the U.S. or the brutalizing of Catholics in Northern Ireland by British soldiers—will almost always be strengthened rather than weakened by their shared experience.

To support these points, Gladwell intersperses a series of inspiring personal stories with summaries of related scientific studies in education, economics, psychology and sociology. His tone is relentlessly upbeat, but he in no way contends that being poor, dyslexic and downtrodden is the best start in life for anyone. He does make the case, however, for mining the dross of life for those small specks of gold and for looking beyond the obvious to the actual.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2013 September #1
A far- and free-ranging meditation on the age-old struggle between underdogs and top dogs. Beginning with the legendary matchup between the Philistine giant and the scrawny shepherd boy of the title, New Yorker scribe Gladwell (What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, 2009, etc.) returns continually to his main theme: that there are unsung advantages to being disadvantaged and overlooked disadvantages to being "advantaged." Though the book begins like a self-help manual--an early chapter on a middle school girl's basketball team that devastated more talented opponents with a gritty, full-court press game seems to suggest a replicable strategy, at least in basketball, and a later one shows how it's almost patently easier to accomplish more by being a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond--it soon becomes clear that Gladwell is not interested in simple formulas or templates for success. He aims to probe deeply into the nature of underdog-ness and explore why top dogs have long had such trouble with underdogs--in scholastic and athletic competitions, in the struggle for success or renown in all professions, and in insurgencies and counterinsurgencies the world over. Telling the stories of some amazingly accomplished people, including superlawyer David Boies, IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, and childhood-leukemia researcher Jay Freireich, Gladwell shows that deficits one wouldn't wish on anyone, like learning disabilities or deprived childhoods, can require a person to adapt to the world in ways that later become supreme benefits in professional life. On the other hand, children of the newly wealthy who have had every good fortune their parents lacked tend to become less well-equipped to deal with life's random but inevitable challenges. In addition to the top-notch writing one expects from a New Yorker regular, Gladwell rewards readers with moving stories, surprising insights and consistently provocative ideas. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2013 May #2

The Davids of the earth can triumph, and in explaining how, hugely best-selling author Gladwell doesn't settle for the standard case studies of inspirational literature but digs deep into conflict in Northern Ireland and failing classrooms, for instance, to show that what's truly advantageous isn't always what we think.

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Library Journal Reviews 2013 November #2

New Yorker staff writer Gladwell (Tipping Point; What the Dog Saw) argues that what may appear to be the obvious answer to questions may not be so obvious. For instance: Do smaller classroom sizes mean students will have higher grades and test scores? Has California's Three Strikes law lowered crime in that state? He compares the biblical story of David and Goliath (the battle between the underdog and the giant) to events from everyday life that question how people think about disadvantages and obstacles. Through extensive research and interviews, he analyzes the pluses and minuses of classroom size and university selection. He discusses the theory of "desirable difficulty" from the perspective of civil rights leaders, cancer researchers, and dyslexics, as well as the limits of power after losing a loved one to a tragic event. VERDICT A thought-provoking book that makes readers consider what's below the surface and investigate deeper into what goes on in our day-to-day lives and in the world at large. Recommended for anyone who wants to learn how to examine facts in an alternative manner, as well as undergraduate and graduate students, scholars, and researchers studying psychology, sociology, and history.--Tina Chan, SUNY Oswego

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