Wednesday, November 20, 2013

David and Goliath

While I've read articles and heard plenty of references to Malcolm Gladwell's writing, I hadn't sat down and read anything of his in its entirety. This book, though, caught my attention.  Several book reviews lured me in, and then when I visited Malaprop's bookstore in Asheville, I was invited to log on and help the store win a visit from the author.

As I have said often before (and contradicted by my actual reading), I tend to prefer fiction to nonfiction. Maybe what grabbed me with this book then, besides the subject matter, was Gladwell's use of narrative.  He begins, naturally, with the David and  Goliath story from the Old Testament, pointing out discrepancies between the actual story recorded there and the selective details we tend to remember or misremember.

From that point on, Gladwell points to the many ways in which one's disabilities, misfortunes, and weaknesses can actually become strengths and our apparent strengths can hold us back. He used examples from history--the leaders of the Civil Rights movement, conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Impressionists painters and their exclusion from the  Salon.  He told the stories of ordinary people--or those who became extraordinary despite what others might have perceived as weakness. I was particularly fascinated by his evidence of the number of extremely successful people with dyslexia and the creativity and life success of people who had lost parents during their childhood.

One of the points that kept surfacing was the way individuals can choose to respond.  The story he told of a Mennonite family whose daughter was murdered, but who chose not to react the same way as the father of another murdered child who came to their door.  They chose to forgive and move forward.

He also presented what economists might call "the point of diminishing returns"--the U-shaped curve. He used the principle to discredit the effectiveness of California's "Three Strikes" legislation and the unquestioning push for smaller classrooms.

I liked the way the book made me think; I especially appreciated the way it keeps echoing in my day-to-day life, its principles coming to life.  I may have to do some remedial reading and check out Gladwell's earlier books now.