Malcolm Gladwell has become famous for writing entertaining and story-driven works of pop sociology beginning with The Tipping Point. I heard last year that he had returned to faith while writing his latest book, David and Goliath, so I was curious to read it and see if it was any different from his earlier writing. He has always attempted to draw lessons from stories, and in that way even his earlier books had a kind of sermonic quality. Would that be more evident this time around?
The book comes in three parts. In the first, Gladwell argues that “the powerful and the strong are not always what they seem” (15). For example, Goliath was bigger and stronger than David, so he had all the advantages in hand-to-hand combat. But because David chose to fight him with artillery rather than at close range, David actually wasn’t as much of an underdog as we often think. In the second, he argues that “There are such things as ‘desirable’ difficulties'” (102). In other words, “advantages” are not always as advantageous as they seem, and “disadvantages” are not always as disadvantageous as they seem. The third part is about the limits of power and how the weak are more powerful than they seem, and so combines the lessons of the first two in a way. Each part is divided into chapters that tell the stories of individuals who illustrate these arguments.
I found the last two chapters particularly interesting in light of Gladwell’s return to faith, since one is about how a Canadian Mennonite family responded to their daughter’s murder, and the other is about how two pastors led the residents of the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in sheltering Jews during World War II. This book is just as entertaining as his other writing, and I thought its themes were particularly well-developed. Perhaps I’m reading into it too much, but I thought there was more of an inspirational quality to this book that I hadn’t seen in his earlier writing.