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on 20 July 2016
I was waiting for some extraordinary insights about how to use the power of the underdog from this book - they didn't materialise and I ended up having to wade through the book in a vain effort to uncover a nugget.
The style is long-winded and over-sweetened for public consumption and I kept saying to myself "get to the point"- it never did.
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on 16 October 2014
I have never read any Gladwell books but, after hearing him interviewed on the radio, thought he sounded interesting and thus would give one of his books a try. I really enjoyed it. It was easy to read and, at least on my part, made me rethink things that I'd always accepted; 'Well, of course that has to be right' - but does it? Was it, necessarily, a great surprise that a small, well trained protector of livestock would loose a battle against a weak, poorly sighted acromegalic? Does the smaller class increase the productivity of students exponentially? Do some 'disabilities' actually increasing some people's ability and success? Whether you accept all the facts Gladwell pulls on in his book or not I'm quite sure that it will make you think about things - it did for me anyway.
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on 4 January 2014
I am a big Gladwell fan generally, but, while I found this book to be a good read, it is not without flaws ( in my opinion).

On the plus side, Gladwell has yet again delivered a book that is so well written that it us difficult to put down. Its upbeat, easy tone makes easy work of what could quite easily be a dull read at the hands if another writer. The book is full of interesting anecdotes and covers numerous topics, from the birth of Impressionism to aspects of the civil rights struggle.

However, I found it lacking in a number of ways. (Spoiler alert). I found a lot of the section about Goliath himself to be pure speculation. He claims scientists now believe that Goliath suffered from a growth disorder and may have been partially sighted. I think he would have better made his point if his arguments were based on facts and not speculation about events thousands of years ago. Secondly, while a lot if the topics covered are fascinating, the book is a bit disjointed and jumps back and forth between anecdotes. I found some of his remarks distasteful and flippant also. In a chapter relating to resistance against the Nazis, Gladwell notes 'there are real limits to what evil and misfortune can accomplish' . Try telling that to the families of the six million people who were slaughtered. He also cites a lady who felt se had to forgive the paedophile murderer if her child, because her best friend is into S&M and it would be hypocritical to forgive her frend's fetish for bondage but not to forgive the murderer's. This seems like a ridiculous statement. How are the acts I two consenting adults comparable to the kidnapping and murder of a child. On a lighter note, a Spanish saying is both spelled and translated incorrectly.

Overall it was an enjoyable but flawed read, in my view. If you like Gladwell , I think you will like this; just maybe not as much as his voter books.
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on 9 November 2015
Very readable. I very much enjoyed the actual David and Goliath story and I learnt something about Basketball. That is the positives out of the way.
What ruined it for me was the description of the troubles in Northern Ireland and what it revealed about the rigour of his research and what can only be deliberate bias in his telling of the story. Unfortunately, I then realised I was reading a work of fiction, it followed that what Malcolm Gladwell (MG) was telling me was profound, was in fact obvious and lacked detail, substance and value.
MG has learnt, like Hollywood, never to let the facts get in the way of a good story and he tells the story of Northern Ireland from one perspective.
Despite quoting from IRA sources, he never introduces them as a protagonist in the troubles, nor does he mention the country to its immediate south that at the time was constitutionally opposed to Northern Ireland being part of the UK.
He defines loyalists as "militant Protestants" and despite the lack of a description of the IRA, we are told that the “Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force” was “an extreme and illegal paramilitary unit". Nowhere can I find any mention of Republicans, Nationalists or extreme and illegal catholic paramilitaries.
We are told that graffiti at the time used word which was a derogatory term for "Irish Catholics" and yet MG quotes include "Brits", which although like the similar words, is used by British people to describe themselves, is used in this context as a term of abuse for someone from the UK EXCLUDING Northern Ireland.
Ironically, despite his description of the trickster tactics of the civil rights movement he seems to take at face value all the stories of insensitivity and brutality told about the British Army. He doesn't seem to consider that these stories may have told and retold with the intention fuelling the anger against British rule and might have been embellished for that purpose. He fails to see that as in the civil rights movement there was deliberate confusion between protesters and bystanders.
Obviously the British Army made mistakes in Northern Ireland, but anyone reading his account would think that they or a couple of economists caused the troubles and raised the issue of legitimacy. But when were economists put in charge of the Army?
I am not an expert on Northern Ireland, but I believe that the question of legitimacy was raised by Republicans long before the British Army was drafted in and the difficulties they faced policing catholic West Belfast was because of pre-existing opposition to British rule.
Anyway, the big message of the book was the “inverted – u shape curve”. Why doesn’t he call it an “n shaped curve”, we could figure for ourselves that it is lower case n. Well it was a revelation when maths discovered that some functions could be represented graphically and v.v., it was a further revelation when it was discovered that some real world properties could be represented graphically, because it meant that it could be calculated by a mathematical function. But it is not a revelation to say that some things are not precisely defined graphically, because we already know that and the shape of a non-linear graph alone does not lead us to any useful mathematical model and hence prediction. In other words, the “inverted-u shape curve” is qualitative, but not quantitative. What it effectively says, is there is a range of values that are better than others and that sometimes these values are not at the extreme. In other words a chair can be too small, too big or just the right size. A bed can be too soft, too hard or just the right firmness and porridge can be too hot, too cold or just the right temperature.
Profound – No
Useful – No
Entertaining – At times.
He leaves us with a slightly confusing story and the supposedly upbeat message that “there is a limit to what evil and misfortune can accomplish”, but I am left thinking that the converse must also true.
I think MG should examine his n-shaped curve and maybe consider that he may be on the right hand side of it and that another non-fiction book might be counter-productive. He’s been writing fiction for years, it is time to market it as such.
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on 24 November 2014
This is the third book by Malcolm Gladwell that I have read, so I had an inkling of what was to come. And in that I was not disappointed! Gladwell starts from a well-known story of an underdog triumphing (no, hold on, THE well-known story of an underdog .....) and moves on from there. True to past books, it is a tour of trends from many different disciplines, and looks at what makes an underdog, and what are advantages and disadvantages. There is more to this than you might think.

From the David vs Goliath point of view, Gladwell asks “who is the underdog?” From the conventional point of view, it is David: young, inexperienced and in almost every way a perfect loser. However, the conventional point of view is, like it or not, from the view-point of Goliath. It is a Goliath view of the world. David did not fight by the conventional rules – the very armour that he tried to wear was a huge encumbrance to him. So he discarded it, and fought with what he knew and was accomplished with. A sling and 5 stones.

The big does not always prevail over the small. It is surprising that in wars between countries with a very significant difference in population size (of the order of 10:1), the ‘big’ wins in only just over 2/3 of the instances. It is this that goes to the heart of the nine individual stories in this volume. Yes, there are many more than nine stories in this book, but each chapter has a headline story. These range from basketball coaches to students choosing collages, and Brer Rabbit behaviour from the civil rights movement in the American South.

Read this book. It may help you understand some of the things that go on in and around your own life, introduce you to the inverted U curve, and a whole lot besides. More importantly, it could assist you to identify opportunities to overcome when in a “David and Goliath” situation, by thinking in a different way. If you read about seeming disadvantages being used in an advantageous way, and harnessing the power this brings, it could help you not to be a goliath yourself, and not to think as Goliath yourself.

Dyslexia seems to have some advantages, and many who win out in life have lost one or both parents before the age of 16. Would I wish either of these circumstances on people I know (especially close family). Here the answer is a resounding ‘no’! But if there are adverse circumstances, that does not necessarily mean that the situation is hopeless. THAT is the optimism of this volume.

Peter Morgan (
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on 4 July 2015
This book was a disappointment.
I bought it after I heard an interview with the author on Jon Stewart's #DailyShow. The interview was interesting and I expected a lot of the book.

The book examins the situations in which davids win against goliaths - interesting.

It tells stories of basketball coaches with weak teams, London bombings during WWII, and pioneering (controversial) medical research - also interesting.
It draws some interesting conclusions as to what makes davids capable of winning - very interesting.

But it is also unstructured. Not every chapter draws a conclusion or two chapters draw the same one. The writing is repetitive. The argumentation lacks discipline (no matter what you do, you can not call 51% an overwhelming majority) and the parallels the author resorts to are farfetched (bored and unruly school children and the war in Northern Ireland to make a point about authority? Really?). I think the topic would much benefit from trimming the text to fit an article or an essay. Maybe that would force the auhor to destil his thesis and arguments and present them clearly.
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on 18 May 2015
In this book, subtitled ‘Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants’, Malcolm Gladwell sets out to challenge our assumption that power and strength stack the odds in favour of victory. He does a pretty good job, presenting us with a variety of stories where the little guy beats the big guy, and telling us why. Junior basketball coaching. Lawrence of Arabia. School class sizes. Beating cancer. The US civil rights movement. And, of course the ‘title track’, the story of David and Goliath itself. In each case, the author confronts us with evidence that resources do not equate to victory. He goes further: in many cases, the result is failure. Gladwell shows that brains can beat brawn. In fact, they usually do. Being the little guy is about finding ways to work around the big guy's power, to nullify its reach and negate its impact. Innovate or lose.

I've adapted this review from a longer one I've previously posted on my blog.
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on 5 January 2016
Amazing book. His best yet. Highly readable - informative, entertaining & inspiring. I have enjoyed all of Gladwell's books - this is superb. I gave several as Xmas presents & has gone well with friends & family.

Very readable - because of style of writing - content is rich. Can get through in no time.
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on 23 October 2014
The book was quite good, with interesting stories about the Davids and Goliaths in history. The last third of the book seemed to digress from the original thesis, but nevertheless, this book is worth reading, or at least listening on audiobook.
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on 6 December 2013
I'm a big fan of Gladwell especially his short stories and articles in The New Yorker. David and Goliath is a compelling analogy for the world in which we live today and had the making of a great book but I feel Gladwell fell short of the book's (and the point he set out to prove) true potential.

The premise that the small can take on the big and mighty and win in today's fast paced and rapidly changing world is compelling. But his book fails to inspire and that is a disappointment. The premise had been well laid out early in the book and I expected it to progress to great current day learnings but the entire book labours a point that most readers will get and agree with early on. Gladwell would then have done better to show the learnings and pitfalls of the analogy rather than spending chapter after chapter proving a point that had already been proven.

Some good stories, well written and easy to read but could've delivered so much more. A decent book but from Gladwell I expected something more.

3 1/2 stars.
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