Author(s): Malcolm Gladwell
APA Style Citation
Gladwell, M. (2013). David and Goliath: underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants. New York: Little, Brown, and Company.
The book opens with the story or David and Goliath. David shocked everyone by slaying the giant Goliath. Gladwell explains that David’s skill as a slinger actually made it reasonable that he could best the giant . If we only look at Goliath’s size assuming he will be the victor, we also miss that this can be his downfall because he is also slow and presumably nearly blind. The story sets the premise for the book , which is based on the idea that underdogs can be victorious because they are not tied to expectations and convention. Gladwell discusses the inverted U-curve, which stresses that the optimal level of functioning is located at the center of the curve. These two ideas converge through the stories throughout the book. It may be important to point out that Gladwell does not sell himself as a researcher or academic, but rather as a journalist. This being the case, one might argue that some of Gladwell’s reasoning is anecdotal rather than supported by data. Gladwell sees his work as storytelling and as a way to make some sense of the world through these stories. The stories may seem unrelated but ultimately they all tie back into the inverted U-curve and optimal performance, even when it is unexpected. Early in the book Gladwell discusses a group of 12-year-old girls from Silicon Valley who are not particularly gifted athletes. In order to compete with and ultimately beat teams with clear athletic superiority, the team used a full court press and so disoriented the other teams that they made it to the regional championship. Gladwell states that in wars, the underdog has been victorious 1/3rd of the time. The American Revolution and the Vietnam Conflict are examples in which the fighting moved out of the expected realm causing the superior armies to be defeated by weaker opponents who were not willing to give up. Gladwell states, “Desperation is motivation.”
Gladwell goes on to discuss ideal class sizes and criticizes elite prep schools that claim that their small class sizes and personal attention to students make them the best options for learning. Gladwell cites responses from thousands of instructors and test results and claims that the ideal class size is around 21-23 students. Furthermore, he discusses the difficulty of parenting when one has unlimited funding. Rather than tell a child they cannot have an extravagant gift because there is not enough money, a wealthy parent must tell their child they simply will not have the gift. He cites that after $75,000 there is no benefit or increase to how well parents can provide for their children. Gladwell goes on to discuss the success of a number of dyslexic individuals and proposes that facing challenges and working through them made them successful. Similarly, Prime Ministers and Presidents who have lost a parent far exceed that of the normal population in terms of successes. Gladwell presents the idea that a difficult childhood can either make one fatalistic or highly determined. He relates the inverted U to the rule of law in Ireland and the “three strikes and your out” law in the state of California. Some people believed that putting more people in jail would deter crime, but as he explains in Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s 1 of every 4 adult men were in prison which decreased public trust in the law. In California, the "three strikes and you are out" law forced some people to go to prisons for crimes such as stealing a piece of pizza while others were in prison for murder. Under this law the state looked at them with the same severity. In Ireland, during riots again English rule, one in four Irishmen found themselves in prison. The police force believed that increased arrests would deter the Irish from protesting, but the opposite happened. The Irish had no respect for the police force and dismissed their authority in all areas. Gladwell advocates for a middle ground, the high point of the inverted u-curve to create effective policies to educate children, deter crime, raise successful children, and negotiate difficult situations.
Other Related Resources
TED Talk: The Unheard Story of David and Goliath
Psychological Figures and Concepts
Robert Rescorla and expectancies
Yerkes Dotson law and the inverted U hypothesis