Malcolm Gladwell, author of the bestsellers The Tipping Point and Blink, offers a very provocative look at our misconceptions with David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Among other topics, David wasn't quite the underdog we all think he was, and it may not always be in a student's best interest to get into Harvard. In fact, the discussions about our educational system are some of the most fascinating chapters in the book.
Gladwell's book actually needs to be read in its entirety. However, let's take the misconception about David, a poor shepherd boy going up the mighty Goliath, the giant from the Philistine army. In fact, Gladwell takes accounts from historians to say that slingers, warriors equipped with slingshots, were essential in armies of the time, and Goliath actually may have had health problems brought on by his giant size, and he couldn't actually even see David. It's a fascinating account. But, it's the first chapter in a book about what happens when ordinary people confront giants "from armies and mighty warriors to disability, misfortune and oppression." It's a book that suggests that those who appear weak may actually use that weakness to their advantage and become successful in doing so.
In two chapters, Gladwell looks at our educational system and our misconceptions. It's always best to get into the Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale, right? Not necessarily. Gladwell deals with students who actually failed to achieve their dreams at Harvard, students who might have been better off at their second choice of school where they could be a "Big Fish in a Small Pond" rather than one of many intelligent students who discovered for the first time in their life they weren't the brightest in class. The accounts and statistics that bear out Gladwell's theories are fascinating. What about the theory that the smaller the class size the better? Not necessarily true for the teacher or the students when no one has enough challenges.
Gladwell interviewed successful entrepreneurs and scientists who all overcame what might appear to be be disabilities or drawbacks to reach their successes. He discusses the Londoners who contradicted the fears of their behavior when London was blitzed, and the Huguenot village in France during World War II that sheltered Jews and refused to obey French laws. Time after time, he tells of people who contradicted normal beliefs in order to succeed. In fact, he asks, "What does it take to be that person who doesn't accept the conventional order of things as a given?"
Malcolm Gladwell has a way of introducing all of us to topics we might not normally read or care about. And, he makes those subjects fascinating. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants is another thought-provoking, must-read book by a journalist who finds a way to make us care.
Malcolm Gladwell's website is www.gladwell.
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell. Little, Brown & Company. 2013. ISBN 9780316204361 (hardcover), 305p.
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