Book Review: David and Goliath, By Malcolm Gladwell


Malcolm Gladwell is infuriating. As each new book arrives, you think that surely the pop sociologist will have learned from the sneering at the previous ones – The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers – and created something more than another riff on one idea with cheaply told examples to pad it out. No, and certainly not with David and Goliath.

Using his classic technique of splicing together disparate examples – from dyslexia to the Blitz spirit, a basketball team to Lawrence of Arabia’s insurgency from the desert – he is trying to explain the asymmetry of opposing forces, why the nimbler win, and why hulking institutions can’t break small dedicated groups of people.

It will probably sell very well. But think for a moment before you buy it.

Gladwell goes searching through snippets of history books to illustrate his points. Here, he brings in the devastation in London during the Second World War, the Falls Road in Belfast, and Le Chambon, a French border town that openly harboured Jews escaping Vichy France. He is tugging at the heart strings using the darkest points in human history with little care for analysis or background.

If you haven’t reached your tipping point with Gladwell by now, this should be it.