David and Goliath: A Book About Underdogs or Historical Misreads?

david and goliath book

David and Goliath is a book about underdogs, and how the seemingly weaker underdogs can find strength in their very same disadvantages to beat more powerful opponents.

Bullet Summary

  • Always think how to turn your disadvantage into an advantage
  • Don’t compare yourself to the brightest: focus on your uniqueness
  • Sometimes advantages can “U-turn” and, above a certain threshold, weaken us

Full Summary

About The Author: Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian journalist, public speaker and author of several books on psychology and, frankly, pop-psychology.
Among his other best sellers are BlinkThe Tipping Point and my personal favorite, Outliers.

Don’t Compare Yourself to The Brightest

Malcolm Gladwell says we usually compare ourselves to the very brightest out there.

But it’s a mistake because, in comparison, we suffer relative deprivation, which leads us to lose confidence and self-esteem.
The author says that’s one of the reasons why top tier schools have a higher drop out rate: the students there compare themselves with the best of the best.

The alternative? Stop comparing yourself and follow your own path and uniqueness.

Focus on Uniqueness

Gladwell says that most of the times when the underdogs beat the most powerful opponent, they didn’t go head to head in direct opposition. Instead, they fought with unconventional tactics leveraging their strengths.

If you are weaker then, don’t seek direct confrontation, but leverage unconventional tactics that will level the playing field.
Read 33 Strategies of Warfare for more.

The Curse of Wealth

Gladwell says that children from very wealthy families can struggle more than poorer ones.

Why?

Because they don’t learn the importance of hard work and fending for themselves.
This is also a topic explored in The Millionaire Mind and what Daymond refers to when he says that being broke can be an advantage (become a subscriber to read “The Power of Broke”).

The Power of Disabilities

Malcolm Gladwell says that people with learning difficulties sometimes end up being much more successful than “normal” people.

Why so?

They work around their issue by developing strengths in other areas that normal people never took the time to explore.

For example, David Boies, one of the most successful lawyers in the US, is dyslexic. And since reading was difficult for him, he developed an uncanny ability to read witnesses and spot possible lies.

david and goliath book

Real Life Applications

Be Prepared to Unsettle
Gladwell says that entrepreneurs are much more disagreeable than the average, and that leaders took social risks by not compromising their beliefs.
The message: to reap big success, sometimes you have to be ready to piss off someone.

Steel Yourself
Watch out for too much mollycoddle in your life: it can take your hedge off. Keep pushing yourself instead.

CONS

Malcolm Gladwell books are easy and interesting to read. But they’re not very factual.

For example:

  • The Revist of David and Goliath is Bogus

I don’t buy the way Gladwell revisits the David and Goliath history by flipping the script.

He says Goliath was probably affected by giantism, which made him slow and nearly blind.

David instead was a more effective fighter because of his slingshot experience.
Slingers, he says, were “the most important” part of the artillery back in the days and “time and time again” the decisive factor against infantry.
Hence, David was the one with the real advantage there.

The story makes no sense to me.
If Goliath was such an ineffective fighter, why would the Philistines send him to fight?
Because they wanted to set themselves up to lose? Doesn’t make sense.

But mots of all, the way Gladwell tells the story, he makes it sound as if David’s win was inevitable.
The way he overblows slingers’ accuracy is also nonsense.
Snipers will miss many shots today with perfectly engineered rifles with a scope. Let alone if David couldn’t miss with a slingshot!

Gladwell also overplays the power of slingers in history warfare: if infantry, cavalry and archers and not slingers were the numerically predominant fighting force, there was a good reason for it.
You can hear this story in his TED Talk.

TL;DR: the re-visitation of Goliath being the underdog rests on shaky ground at best.
Listen to Gladwell to learn how to deliver a good storytelling speech and to increase your critical thinking, but NOT to learn factual information.

  • Disjointed

“David and Goliath” talks about underdogs, entrepreneurs, people facing big obstacles and the effect of a harsh punishment system. I find the link among all these topics tenuous.

PROS

I have been very critical above, but there are several good points in “David and Goliath”.
For me, one of the best was this:

  • Great Insight on Entrepreneurs Psychology

I loved the analysis Gladwell makes of entrepreneurs and leaders from a social perspective. Entrepreneurs, for example, are very high on disagreeableness.
And successful leaders took big social gambles by not compromising their beliefs to avoid making waves.

  • Good take on turning weaknesses into strengths. 

Turning weaknesses into strengths and stunning wins is certainly possible a surprising number of times in life. And if “David and Goliath” will help you just to get into that type of mindset, than it will have been worth it.

Review

David and Goliath, in a nutshell, says that advantages are not always advantages and disadvantages can instead become our strengths.

I didn’t find the Gladwell particularly insightful here, but I like the message of using our weaknesses as our strengths (something I talk about in leveraging pain and failure).

From a mindset perspective of turning obstacle into advantages, I preferred The Obstacle is The Way.
But overall, David and Goliath has lots of great insight, some of which also very inspirational.
And of course, Gladwell knows how to write. All his books have been NYT best sellers, so you can definitely learn how to write a successful book and how to tell a story.

Read more summaries or get the book on Amazon.

Processing...
Scroll to Top