David and Goliath Summary

Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath

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David and Goliath Summary

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David and Goliath by Malcom Gladwell explores the “underdog” phenomenon. The book, published in 2013, was a bestseller, even though the critical reception was largely negative. Gladwell is known for his work as a journalist, author, and public speaker who examines the social science phenomenons .

Chapter One focuses on how to use  one’s biggest weaknesses to identify one’s greatest strengths. Like the young  boy David who defeated the giant Goliath, Gladwell talks about a junior high basketball team without much experience. They were the league underdogs. However, by instituting a full court press, they managed to defeat other teams.

Chapter Two turns to the inverted parabola, or curve. Here, Gladwell examines the effect of having too much or too little. He uses the examples of classroom size and income to state that  a middle point most often  strikes a perfect balance. There is a level of income where  anyone earning below that point might not be happy, whereas anyone earning higher than that point might lose their moral values, therefore sacrificing happiness.

In Chapter Three, Gladwell looks at the concept of the little fish in the big pond. He talks about both the French Impressionist painters who started their own Salon and therefore became big fish in a little pond, and compares them to a student choosing between an Ivy League university and a non-Ivy school. The student chooses the former. She becomes a little fish in a big pond and suffers for it, whereas she might have chosen the non-Ivy school and been a big fish in a little pond.

Gladwell discusses dyslexia in Chapter Four, and the way it is  usually perceived as a weakness. However, he cites two examples. The first is a lawyer who trains his memory to retain the most detailed information. Another is a young man who decides that the risk of failure isn’t going to hold him back and ends up becoming a successful a stock trader.

Chapter Five is about how tragedy breeds perseverance. Specifically, Gladwell discusses the possible outcomes of a bombing, referencing the Blitz in London during World War II. If there is a direct hit, the affected persons perish. A near miss causes those affected to experience shock and disbelief. The third possible outcome is a remote miss, which causes joy because those specific people were not hit by the bomb. This third option causes feelings of invincibility. Gladwell shifts to discuss a doctor who grew up in dire conditions following the Great Depression. That same doctor ushered in a successful treatment for children suffering from leukemia.

In Chapter Six, Malcolm Gladwell discusses a picture taken during a protest in Birmingham, Alabama. The protest took place in 1963 and Gladwell discusses how it espouses the idea that African Americans fighting for civil rights had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Being an underdog turned into an advantage. By bringing students into that protest, it became more powerful. Was it dangerous? Yes. Were the dangers worse than perpetuating a society in which civil rights were denied? No. The tactic worked.

Chapter Seven looks at two women—Rosemary Lawlor and Joanne Jaffe—and their path  to success as underdogs. Lawlor joined her fellow Irish in fighting against the British to create an independent Irish nationindependence. Jaffe took a different approach than her contemporaries and offered New York adolescents love and sympathy, earning legitimacy and authority instead of demanding it.

Chapter Eight revisits the curve by examining the effects of two deadly crimes. In California, in 1992, Kimber Reynolds was mugged and killed. She had the opportunity to speak with her father before she passed, and he promised to make sure he did all he could to prevent such a crime from happening again. He stayed true to his promise and ended up changing the legal code regarding sentencing. However, it backfired and criminals were sentenced to unfairly long prison terms, something that costly both from a monetary standpoint and an ethical one. Another woman, Wilma Dirksen lost her daughter to a violent crime. She chose to forgive and forget the attacker, finding strength and saving her social relationships and her own mind.

In the final chapter of David and Goliath, Gladwell looks at the historical moment when France surrendered to Germany in 1940. He tells the story of a man named Trochme, who resisted the imprisonment of French Jews in France. He persuaded his town to shield and protect their local Jewish neighbors, and to refuse to turn them over to the government. That’s exactly what happened. Trochme was arrested and promised his freedom if he signed a paper agreeing to follow the new laws. Yet, he did not sign. He instead cited witnessing his mother’s death in an accident as the moment when he found the strength to be stubborn in the face of tyranny.