Thu, Oct 10, 2013 - Page 11 News List

Book review: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants (Illustrated)

Malcolm Gladwell’s new book explores the story of David and Goliath to show that giants have weaknesses, and that underdogs can accomplish the unexpected

By Janet Maslin  /  NY Times News Service

The disproportionate gravity of these examples borders on insult, but it is Gladwell’s gift to paste together the incongruous. After all, Boies, Grazer and Cohn created ingenious strategies to cope with their dyslexia. Freireich overcame terrible childhood hardship and would dare, as an adult, to put children through excruciating experimental treatments to save their lives. The black citizens and civil rights workers of Birmingham also had things to overcome.

Early in this section, Gladwell invokes the World War II bombing of London as a valid David and Goliath mismatch: German efforts to intimidate the British created the “remote miss,” a survivor’s exhilaration, in some who lived through weeks of bombardment. This book’s second — that’s two — good talking point is that experiencing a remote miss promotes willingness to take risks.

The final part of David and Goliath is the one that hews closest to conventional wisdom. Entities with power, he says, should not invalidate their own legitimacy. As an example of how legitimacy might be lost, he cites an episode in Northern Ireland when the British army tear-gassed a priest. As an example of how it might yield benefits, he cites a police officer in New York who cultivated the worst juvenile offenders on her turf, even to the point of giving Thanksgiving turkeys to their families.

Gladwell has a less Christmassy point to make with the stories of how differently two California families dealt with the murders of daughters. Mike Reynolds, the first victim’s father, helped drum up support for California’s three-strikes law, although Gladwell points out the law’s weaknesses.

The second victim’s story is quirkier. Wilma Derksen and her husband, Canadian Mennonites whose daughter was hog tied and murdered, originally voiced a forgiving desire to know the killer. But then the man was apprehended, and Derksen could not bear the details she learned at his trial.

Perhaps Derksen might have exploited her daughter’s fate, or otherwise made herself a strong counterpoint to Reynolds. But she showed courage in choosing not to. She had the strength to walk away, and Gladwell takes her story no further, not even to the point of relevance. Derksen was no David. Fate did not give her a Goliath to fight. She doesn’t really belong here. David and Goliath lacks the temerity to say so.

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