Battling Giants

Cover of David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants and author Malcolm Gladwell

Image courtesy of Bill Wadman/Little Brown and Company

Battling Giants
| Published March 2, 2014 |

By Lisa K. Whitten
Thursday Review contributor

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants; Malcolm Gladwell: I picked this book to read thinking it might be focused on David and Goliath. They are part of the book but they do not dominate. The book has several stories which highlight underdogs and how they overcame their giants.  In the case of David and Goliath, the author explains that Goliath may have had several medical issues which could have played a part in his demise at the hands of David.  He also says that David fought by what to Goliath’s knowledge was unconventional fighting.  A boy?  No armor?  Goliath did not know how to fight back.  However you look at this famous event it is the underdog that wins.

One of Gladwell’s modern day stories is that of the father from Mumbai, Vivek Ranadivé, who had never played basketball, nor even knew how it was played.  He became the coach for his daughter’s basketball team.  These girls were more intellectual than athletic, but were willing to try their skills at basketball nevertheless.  After watching and studying basketball he had them utilize a seldom used play that is known as a full-court press.  Unconventional, but, legal by basketball rules.  The result of their unconventionality?  They became National Champions.

The book continues to go through real life scenarios of Davids overcoming their Goliaths. Gladwell cites the example of the case of the dyslexic man who jumped into a cab alongside a passenger who worked in a major Wall Street firm, and later that man who shared the cab ride rose to a top notch position within the company. Gladwell also tells us the story of the construction worker that went to law school and became a well-known litigator in California. Gladwell explains that these two individuals learned to focus on areas in which they excelled. They were forced to excel in other areas to overcome the dyslexia because they had nothing to lose. The Goliaths are unaccustomed to the unconventional methods employed by the Davids, and these instances the underdogs overcame the odds.

Can angry unarmed women subdue the British army?  You bet.  Trouble began in 1969 between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. In 1970, a curfew was placed and food supplies were low.  The Brits made the mistake in believing that had the upper hand because they were well armed and experienced. The women’s weapons?  Banging pot lids together, pushing prams, and speaking into bullhorns!  Imagine the combat ready British army resorting to hair pulling and beating.  They lost.

Gladwell explains how these unassuming Davids overcame long odds, but he also explains how they can go beyond the tipping point. The case of the father of a daughter that was murdered in broad daylight is an example. The Three Strikes Law came into existence as a result of a father trying to prevent more senseless murders.  Did it really decrease crime in the long run?  Gladwell’s inverted curve answers this question.  He also covers the way students pick colleges and how their choice determines if they will excel, or just give up.  And, he explores the issue of classroom size to determine if in fact it affects overall student performance.

At 332 pages this book is a medium-length read, but it is also jam-packed with stories, charts, results of studies and illuminating references.  It is also hard to put down.  And the book is uplifting for the “Davids” of the world.  This is one book I will most likely read again.