Book Review: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell is a compilation of stories depicting socially viewed underdogs who achieved advantages from their shortcomings. These stories portray a classic protagonist who, while facing all odds, overcomes the obstacles and tribulations associated with their story and emerges successful. What Gladwell exposes is the other side of these stories and how these characters had the advantage over their supposed obstructions.

This book starts with the Biblical story of David and Goliath, a classic underdog story. Anyone who has read or heard this story remembers the fierce and physically imposing Goliath who challenges the enemy to single combat. The lowly shepherd, David, bravely faces the giant and kills him in front of both armies. This triumphant story is paraded as the prime example of how a minnow defeated a shark. However, when you break this story down and read between the lines, the reader will find this is not the whole story.

As the story highlights, Goliath is an intimidating giant who had great success in hand-to-hand combat. Historians will point out that a typical soldier at this time would have been suited in heavy armor making it difficult for quick movements. David is a small shepherd who had to defend his herd from vicious animals using a sling and rocks. This training makes him the ideal candidate for projectile combat, a branch of the army used for long distance combat. In addition, historians believe Goliath suffered from a pituitary tumor which could explain his stature. This could also explain the words he chose when confronted with David. He asks David to come closer, and mistakes his weapon for multiple weapons. Historians believe this to mean the tumor was crushing his optical nerve and causing sight complications. This health issue gave David a colossal advantage on the battlefield and inevitably led to Goliath’s death.

As these details of the story are exposed by historians, the entire perspective of the story shifts. The perspective shits from a lowly shepherd facing a giant, to a well-executed attack from a skilled soldier on an ill, former champion. Throughout this book, Gladwell highlights stories with this theme to illustrate how history gets it wrong and how a few details can shift the perception of the story.

To every young professional out there, I recommend this book to help you understand how your perceived disadvantages do not need to hold you back. You can achieve success by thinking outside the box. If David did not analyze the situation, think outside the box, and apply his competent skills, he would not have succeeded.