Thursday, June 14, 2018

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants Paperback – April 7, 2015 by Malcolm Gladwell (Back Bay Books)

Headline: This book will be impactful for those that enjoy long stories/narratives to make a point.

Book Summary: The author points out stories of inspiration to encourage people to overcome difficulties or adversity. The author also strongly cautions taking on too much adversity as the result may be the opposite of what is intended. The thesis of the book would be, "Through these stories, I want to explore two ideas. The first is that much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty. And second, that we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness" (Kindle, 48). The author successfully attributes narratives throughout the book to make these points seem real. The narratives also tug at one's heartstrings in a way that makes the objective of the story become vivid. Gladwell further evidences his point by offering simple examples such as a U-curve so that individuals may understand the tipping point as best as possible between various scenarios.

One of the best stories in the book related to this tipping point was of a student who attended Harvard for a degree in science. While this student was in the 99th percentile in the world for her brilliance, the constant comparing of herself to other "smarter" students ended up holding her back. Had she gone to a school with a slightly less competitive nature, she would have excelled. Gladwell comments, "We compare ourselves to those in the same situation as ourselves" (Kindle, 869). Gladwell does well with this because while many book about inspiration focus purely on the positive aspect of life, few are able to caution the opposite effect that may result from too much positivity (positivity used loosely here). "What matters, in determining the likelihood of getting a science degree, is not just how smart you are. It’s how smart you feel relative to the other people in your classroom" (Kindle, 922).

While Gladwell started this book well, with stories and points being made precisely and clearly, the book does not end that way. As you read past the first few chapters, the stories become longer and it takes away from the points being made clearly. This is a good and a bad thing all at once. The way the stories are written, they are engaging, making you feel like you're reading a historical novel. However, when one becomes too engrossed in the stories, and the points are made in only a sentence or two out of several pages of story, the points being made seem to lose their effect.

The points made hold a solidarity to them. For example, it is difficult to argue the fact that too much or too little of anything can be both good and bad. Gladwell references the U-curve (shaped like a parabola) in the first few chapters stating that the perfect point between good and bad is at the tip of the U, going beyond that will see minimal results, going less than that point will demonstrate a lack of results. As nearly everything in this world is a binary, this is a difficult point to argue because it holds true in almost every situation (I can't think of a situation where it does not). The beauty of the discussion, however, is not in the inability to argue the points being made, rather it is in the simplicity that it is explained. Gladwell takes what may be a very difficult concept and explains it in a way that nearly every person may understand.

Ultimately, I would recommend this book. The self-development and psychological factors are well-presented. If you are a person who does not enjoy stories, read the first several chapters then skim the rest of the book. The truths that are recognized in this text are basic truths that every person may benefit from learning or becoming aware of.

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