Gladwell, a columnist for The New Yorker, has produced another bestseller about success, focusing on the advantages of the disadvantaged. It is counterintuitive to think that David can triumph over Goliath. The biblical story, in the first book of Samuel, is a classic case of asymmetrical warfare. David would have no chance of defeating a giant in hand-to-hand combat. The slingshot is his only option to vanquish Goliath.
Gladwell profiles representative figures who demonstrate how hardships can be turned into strengths. David Boies, one of America's leading litigators, overcame childhood dyslexia by becoming an expert listener, memorizing long passages, and thinking quickly on his feet. Wyatt Walker, a key figure in the American Civil Rights Movement, recruited crowds of African-Americans in Birmingham to make up for the paucity of active protesters. He got the publicity the Movement needed when German Shepherds and water hoses were used for crowd control. Andre Trocme, a Protestant pastor in a predominately Catholic country, called on the townspeople of Le Chambon to save the lives of hundreds of local Jews in Vichy France. Rosemary Lawlor, a housewife in Belfast, Northern Ireland, led the largest protest against British troops during the height of the Troubles. Dr. Emil Freireich, one of America's foremost experts on childhood leukemia, lost his father to suicide and spent his youth in poverty.
Gladwell discusses how conventional thinking has skewed our responses to various political, social and cultural issues. Smaller class sizes don't necessarily produce better students; there is a point of diminishing returns. Ivy League schools produce proportionately fewer graduates in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields than less prestigious schools. Neighborhood policing is effective law enforcement. The California Three Strikes Law isn't. Smaller countries often best bigger countries in warfare. A full-court press is an effective defensive strategy in basketball that shorter teams can use to defeat taller teams.
Gladwell makes his points in clear prose. Quotations and anecdotes and are used liberally. There are statistical tables and extensive footnotes. David and Goliath is an entertaining and informative read.