A review of Malcolm Gladwell’s David And Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, And The Art Of Battling Giants.

It seems that Malcolm Gladwell has lately become a kind of scapegoat for a certain kind of anti-intellectualism among a certain type of pretentious intellectual. I’ve always enjoyed Gladwell’s books and I felt that he causes no mischief by popularizing genuinely interesting things that normally are hidden in the obscurity of academia. I also felt that his writing was superbly crafted and demonstrated a sophistication which should give critics a reason to stop and double check any negativity. To counter the recent outpouring of negativity towards this author whom I generally have enjoyed, I read this latest book ready to remind myself of Gladwell’s genius.

Unfortunately, that did not happen. I thought the writing style was poor, a radical change from the respect I had for the prose of earlier books. Was this written by an assistant? For example, after the first paragraph in the dust jacket is a trick that is used throughout the book, the rhetorical question. Gladwell says stuff like "David blah blah blah obviously should have eaten beans for lunch. (new paragraph) Or should he have?" You can just imagine a dramatic camera angle change and some cheesey duh-duh detective movie music effect. He does this all over the place.

So another faux pas, and something that I do in my writing because I am not a professional writer, is to start sentences with "So". So I actually proofread my writing and I try to spot and simply eliminate any of those. So they almost are never necessary in writing and are basically amateurish. So an example from the book - "So why were Londoners so unfazed by the Blitz?" So this represents not just a failure of the author, but also of the editors. So you can see that "So" is a fancy way to spell "uhhh".

There were some very odd bits of ethnic folklore offered as something interesting to the point of the book. I’m not entirely sure about that. I will point out that transliterating the dialect of certain ethnic groups (Swiss into German, for example) is definitely a minefield requiring immense sensitivity to avoid mockery. Perhaps my discomfort as I read these passages comes from the fact that if I had written them, I could easily imagine being fired.

The organization of the book was clearly poor. You don’t need to read it to know that, just stand in the library and flip through the pages. You will note that on about every five or so pages is a footnote taking up a quarter of the page on average. Several had more text than the primary text on that page.

I felt that the research lacked novelty. I understand that Gladwell isn’t conducting studies himself, but in the past, I felt he brought interesting findings to my attention that I would have never discovered. In this book, it seemed that I already knew about the point he was making or I didn’t care.

Overall, this book lacked coherence. It seemed like the byproducts of near random Wikipedia surfing. Where it did move the main theme along, I often found it fatuous. I certainly never get a good feeling when an author wants me to feel somehow fortunate because of my own adversity (Aren’t you lucky to have lost a parent early in your life?). I am even more repulsed by stories of Upper Class Twits crying about how hard life is.

The ostensible story of underdogs prevailing sounds nice, but does not really do justice to all the kings, popes, oligarchs, CEOs, generals, 7 foot basketball players, and studio manufactured musicians of history whose influence is probably as exaggerated as their legacies. Of course I have no real solid evidence to support my facile conjectures. Much like this book.