Book review: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

There was something slightly unsatisfying about David & Goliath and I’m trying to work out what that was. I’ve read Gladwell’s other books and thoroughly enjoyed them; in this one, there is no falling off in his writing, which remains as engaging as ever, and his trademark mix of personal stories illuminating theories is still an excellent way of bringing research to life. I think, in the end, the big idea in this book, the U-curve of diminishing returns returns reached after a certain point is just not as interesting as the ideas explored in his previous books; in some ways, it appears to be a great deal of research to illustrate a principle of folk wisdom encapsulated rather precisely in the phrase ‘diminishing returns’. So, only three stars, but still well worth a read.

And thinking about this further, it’s encapsulated in the use Gladwell makes of the U-curve when examining the reactions of people to appalling events which fails. For example, two sets of parents are confronted with the murder of a child. One man embarks upon a crusade to enforce harsher punishments (the ‘three-strikes rule’). The other couple – devout Christians – manage, somehow, to forgive the man who sexually assaulted and then killed their daughter. The former sought revenge, the latter gave forgiveness. Such a radical response to injury requires more than being shoehorned into popular psychology, and indeed Gladwell made that response himself. Interviews suggest that, when confronted with such extraordinary forgiveness, Gladwell himself returned to the Christian faith of his upbringing. And really this is the only way to deal with suffering and grief – the Laffer curve is simply inadequate in the face of such a mystery.


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