David and Goliath teaches a lesson, but not the lesson you expect. Modern readers misunderstand the story and have the original message wrong. That is so cool, I’m reviewing this non-fiction book for my news post.
We think of David as a hopeless underdog facing an unbeatable foe, saved only by divine intervention. “No one in ancient times would have doubted David’s tactical advantage once it was known he was an expert in slinging.”
Ancient soldiers using slingshots were as formidable as archers. Goliath was a sitting duck, a heavily armored infantry warrior. There was no way he could chase down and engage David.
What we commonly think of as strengths and weaknesses can be very different in reality, and the underdog wins more often than we expect. This book covers varying subjects such as children of wealthy parents, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, primary school class sizes, deterring crime, and girls’ basketball. Gladwell offers individual stories and adds research to generalize his points. What you think you know ain’t so – delightful.
Advantages may make someone stronger for a while, until getting “more” becomes a weakness. The once-stronger side focuses on what worked in the past and how things “should” be done, blind to the challenge that confronts them.
Consider “wars over the last two hundred years – how often do you think the [more powerful] side wins? Most of us would put that number at close to 100 percent… [but] just under a third of the time, the weaker country wins.”
Children of wealthy parents can be less self-sufficient than their peers.
There is an optimum class size for elementary school but Americans obsess over reducing class sizes: “77 percent of Americans think that it makes more sense to… lower class sizes than to raise [good] teachers’ salaries. Do you know how few things 77 percent of Americans agree on?”
“Cracking down” on criminals and insurgents often makes the problem worse. For people to obey an authority, they must feel that the authority is fair. “What matters in deterrence is what matters to offenders.” When legitimacy is lost, offenders become willing to bear extreme forms of punishment. For example, “a reasonable assessment of the research to date is that [extreme] sentence severity has no effect on the level of crime in society.”
Personally, I believe that what really happens in the world is more important than what should happen. We’re wasting time and money while defeating our own goals.
This short book offers an important argument: the upside down “U” of strength and weakness. Advantages that strengthen you for a while can top out and become liabilities.
Before you double-down on an action, think about this and consider what the evidence tells you.
BTW, Goliath may have suffered acromegaly: speculation on the diseases of historical figures is always intriguing. I found the story of David and Goliath surprisingly interesting and fun; much better than the “favorite Bible stories for children” sort of idea I had before.
PS: I read a digital version of Gladwell’s book. After the cover and title pages is a “welcome” with links to “Begin Reading.” The table of contents, and copyright page come after the text. Since on-line retailers offer previews starting at page one, this arrangement gives the reader the maximum preview of text, and placing typical front-matter at the end is no inconvenience in an ebook. Ebooks are evolving and I enjoy the format.