David and Goliath

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

Gladwell - David and Goliath
When I was dating my wife and in the early years of our marriage, I used to love visiting here parents' house. Of course the people were a big part of the attraction of that home, but another attraction was that her father subscribed to The New Yorker Magazine. I remember visiting and pouring over copies of the magazine from cover to cover. I would even read the calendar of events in New York. The magazine was so well written and so well edited. It seemed as if everything from the cartoons to the poetry to the fiction to the nonfiction reflected care, precision, and respect for the intelligence of the reader. Over the years, however, I have had the sense that the New Yorker has slipped considerably. The editing is less precise. The writing is a bit more slipshod. One can even find errors in fact checking from time to time in the contemporary magazine.

My image of the magazine wasn't helped by Gladwell's book. Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer for the New Yorker and his book has the flavor of a hurriedly written research paper by an undergraduate student. He mistakes anecdote for evidence, misinterprets statistics, and fails to even consider multiple sources. I suppose I'd probably rate the effort worth a C for a grade: not failing, but hardly exceptional.

The premise is reasonable. What we know about the sources of success is often incomplete. Obstacles and disadvantages can lead to growth of character, integrity and maturity.

The biggest problem with the book is that Gladwell isn't an underdog. He fails to see his position of exceptional privilege. He isn't a civil rights leader - he doesn't even know what it means to have his rights denied. He isn't a student trapped in an unsuccessful classroom. By writing about the challenges of underdogs from a position of personal privilege, Gladwell comes off as preachy and overbearing. The book is little more than his opinion and his opinion seems not to be well founded.

If you want to read the book, I recommend against purchasing it. I'm glad to give away my copy and I suspect there are a lot of others who have the book who would be willing to do the same.

And, by the way, I have no plans to subscribe to The New Yorker.