David and Goliath is a book of both hope and experiential instruction for everybody who has ever felt like an outsider. Like Gladwell’s other work, it attempts to shatter assumptions and therefore expectations about who will succeed and why. However, taken in a context that includes some of the revelations of Outliers, this new book expands rather than shatters our notions. Because my primary interest is people rather than assumptions about class sizes and more amounts of anything being better than less (there’s plenty of that in this book), I’d like to focus on the outsider people aspect of the book:
Through copious footnotes Gladwell takes pains to clarify that his misfit and underdog success stories are not always the rule: lots of illiterate people with dead parents and lousy childhoods end up in jail rather than lawyering or doctoring.
Outliers illuminated the fact that when highly intelligent children who have been given guidance and nurturing are compared in adulthood to those who were not guided and nurtured, the non-nurtured adults are akin to a different “species.” Where the nurtured children become thriving successful adults, the equally intelligent non-nurtured ones can barely navigate life and live on the edges of society. (And I use “non-nurtured” to include people who were not only neglected but who were hurt and invalidated.)
David and Goliath tells the stories of people who had enormous obstacles—inexperience, dyslexia, brutal childhoods, cultures of racism and warfare—who became braver because they had survived disasters unhurt. Some of these people were so without assets that they had nothing to lose and felt free to invent their own modes of conduct, taking daring chances when they were desperate. Some developed special skills to compensate for those they did not have. And because of this—as well as the fact that they were not so afraid of being afraid that they let it paralyze them—they triumph. And, says Gladwell, statistically it turns out that the cream of the successful crop of human entrepreneurs and trailblazers seems to be such people.
In some ways, David and Goliath is the antidote to Outliers. If you grew up without guidance and nurturing, after reading Outliers you might just give up. (I want to write a book for such people, but more about that another time.) If David and Goliath shatters anything, it might be the despair that Outliers documented in the chapters about non-nurtured adults—because if you are such a person and you read this book to learn, you may begin to view your so-called deficiencies differently, as you contemplate the assets you do have and how you might exercise them in ways that are peculiar to you. For people with intelligence, David and Goliath is the fantasy good teacher who offers the material but leaves it to you to figure out what to do with it.
So like an intelligent student, I’ve been cogitating: What might I do as a virtually unknown writer with a funny prize-winning novel coming out next year? I don’t have the stomach to jump into a cab with someone I don’t know and claim to be something I’m not (as one of Gladwell’s role models did), or to torture people (as another of Gladwell’s people did—a doctor who hurt kids in the interest of curing thousands more). But I am not averse to trying to piggyback on Gladwell’s book by telling you that my new novel, The Last Will & Testament of Zelda McFigg, is a “rollicking romp” (as one reader put it) from an underdog misfit who battles giants with a different and perhaps more common outcome than the heroes of David and Goliath. Check out the link, watch the book trailer, and feel free to "like" Zelda on Facebook.