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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Book Club Picks: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

What is your book club reading in recognition of National Underdog Day, which falls on the third Friday of December? Consider discussing Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, in which the author explores the phenomena of victorious underdogs and explains how they often come out ahead not by luck but by design. Often the underdog’s perceived weakness doubles as strength, and vice versa. In the title example, Goliath was hampered with heavy armor and weaponry, allowing nimble David to prevail. Gladwell goes on to explain why a disproportionate percentage of successful entrepreneurs have dyslexia and how early civil rights leaders utilized the prejudice of the majority to further their cause. One of his counter-intuitive discoveries is that top graduates of average colleges are more successful in their careers than middle-of-the-pack graduates of Ivy League colleges.  This last topic he covered at length in a speech at Google.


In "Part Three: The Limits of Power," Gladwell applies some of the earlier theories to larger historical phenomena, explaining why some wars are unwinnable even though one entity should have a clear advantage. During "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland, why were the Protestant majority, with strong British allies, unable to subdue the minority Catholics? How did the unsophisticated mountain dwellers of Le Chambon, France defy the Nazis and openly harbor hundreds of Jews during World War Two? For that matter, why was the great and powerful USA unable to win the war in Vietnam?

As Gladwell explains in David and Goliath, the powerful cannot subdue a populace by might alone. In order to prevail, the source of power must be perceived as legitimate. The group to be won over must perceive the ruling power as having recognized their interests. Gladwell writes, "...when the law is applied in the absence of legitimacy, it does not produce obedience. It produces the opposite. It leads to backlash." The corollaries in history and contemporary society are abundant.

Gladwell is more of a giant than an underdog in the publishing world; his international bestsellers are famous for spurring lively discussion. Other books by Gladwell that are popular with book clubs include Outliers: the Story of Success, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, and Blink: the Power of Thinking without Thinking. 
--Suzanne LaPierre, Kings Park Library

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