Book Review: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and The Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell

Before the book’s introduction, author Malcolm Gladwell begins with a quote: “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” (1 Samuel 16:7New International Version).  This quote is the beginning of the biblical story to which this book is titled, David and Goliath.  Society teaches us stories of people overcoming great odds in the face of adversity; these stories can bring inspiration to those going through difficult challenges.  Gladwell dives into of these stories on how seemingly great odds were overcome and in contrast how those who should have great advantages for success may not have such an advantage after all.  The book is divided into three parts.  Each chapter is a case study with its background story and discussion on how people overcame their adversities.

Part 1 – The Advantages of Disadvantages (and the Disadvantage of Advantages) – Within the first three chapters Gladwell illustrates three stories of paradoxes on how advantaged do not guarantee a victory and disadvantages do not guarantee a defeat. Chapter one is a case of a girls’ basketball team, with height and skills disadvantage overcoming, and in some cases blew away, more highly skilled teams with taller athletes. Chapter two is a study about the misconception of advantages teachers should have when teaching a small class size; the author provides anecdotal evidence that a really small class size can be just as much of a disadvantage as a class size that is too large. The third chapter provides statistics and reasoning of the disadvantage of attending a top tiered school and the misperception that top tiered elite universities are more likely to produce top tiered graduates even if the students were exceptionally brilliant among the top of their high school class.

Part 2 – The Theory of Desirable Difficulty – These next three chapters illustrate how people, with what appears to be a handicap, disability, or social disadvantages, look beyond their disability and, in many cases, use their disability as an advantage over their peers who do not have an identifiable diagnosed disability or social disadvantages.  These chapters discuss people with dyslexia, a child growing up during the traumatic time of World War II and losing his family, and how a small group of Martin Luther King Jr. activists gave the appearance their small group of followers was a large mighty force to be reckoned with.

Part 3 – The Limits of Power – The last three chapters Gladwell gives examples of the balance of power and authority and how sometimes authority is misused.  He circles back to the beginning where he discusses balance and disadvantage of a too small and too large classroom size and applies that principle to authority and power. Gladwell states, “We often think of authority as a response to disobedience.”  “However”, Gladwell continues, “disobedience ca also be a response to authority” (Gladwell, 2013).  As in previous case studies, Gladwell explains there is also a balance when it comes to authority.  No authority could result in chaos and strict authority could result in rebellion.


            The stories within each chapter goes into the backgrounds in what lead up to the events where each person, or group of people, rise up against their advisories.  History and upbringing forged people to prepare for when the opportunity presented itself, and these resilient people seized those opportunities.  Gladwell then breaks down how what seems to be a handicap in one area can open up opportunities creating advantages in other areas.  Going back to the beginning of the story of David and Goliath, Gladwell explains that the advantage was with David almost from the very beginning.  The author quotes, “Goliath had as much chance against David as any Bronze aged warrior with a sword would have had against an opponent armed with a .45 automatic pistol” (Gladwell, 2013).


Gladwell, M. (2013). David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. New York: Little Brown and Company.

Author: Edmund J. Martinez, MBA, MPH, PMP