David and Goliath

david and goliath

In his latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, the well-known Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell unveils some biased beliefs commonly held about how people achieve success in life. Everyone is familiar with the titular biblical story: a young shepherd boy with a slingshot slays a mighty, heavily armed warrior. But for Gladwell, the outcome of the battle is really not that extraordinary when one looks at the circumstances behind the famous face-off.

Goliath suffered from an ailment that made him slow and nearsighted; his style of fighting was full-armored, up close in hand-to-hand combat. David, on the other hand, protected his sheep from predators with his sling shot, striking from a distance. He had perfect vision and aim, and hit the giant directly in the forehead, the one vulnerable place not covered by armor.

Defying expectations

The author uses many examples where the “underdog” defies expectations. One of the first stories is of an inexperienced girl’s basketball team that, lacking shooting and passing skills, perfects an alternate (yet still fair) strategy to win over the reigning team. Qualities such as perseverance and a positive attitude, are, after all, available to everyone, even the disadvantaged.

Gladwell also points to the number of successful entrepreneurs who have overcome learning disabilities. He features a world-class trial lawyer, severely dyslexic, who, when in school, took significantly longer than his fellow law school students to read and comprehend legal literature and case studies, a crucial requirement for passing law courses. Yet his well developed listening and verbal skills, powers of observation and insight into human behavior, put him ahead of his peers. A youth spent coping with alienation and stumbling blocks ended up preparing him well for the effort and perseverence needed to succeed in a highly competitive profession.

gladwell book Hardship and Success

Some people find this author to be overly simplistic and his outlook a little too idealistic. But Gladwell does not say that there is some easy path from hardship to success. Many give up; many fail. The message of David and Goliath is, ultimately, that people who experience detrimental circumstances do not have to be doomed to mediocrity or failure. By looking for unconventional ways of compensating for shortcomings and overcoming obstacles in life, it can be possible for a disadvantaged person to find happiness and success.


David and Goliath is available at Chapters.

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