Arts & Culture
1:30 pm
Fri January 31, 2014

Malcolm Gladwell Says We Got the Story of David and Goliath All Wrong

The story of David and Goliath gets a closer look in Malcolm Gladwell's book. The illustration is by Robert Temple Ayres.
The story of David and Goliath gets a closer look in Malcolm Gladwell's book. The illustration is by Robert Temple Ayres.
Credit Fried Dough, flickr.

We all know the biblical story of David and Goliath, in which the outsized and outmatched young David defeats the giant Goliath in battle with only the use of a stone.

But do we really understand the story? Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell says we don't.

He uses the story to illustrate how we misinterpret power dynamics in his new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.

In the story, David is usually portrayed as an underdog, but was more deadly than we realized with his sling shot - a weapon the equivalent of today's handgun.

“Once David changes the rules, he upsets the bounds of power,” says Gladwell.

Goliath was expected to win because he was a muscular giant. But scientists who have reconstructed the story believe that Goliath had a tumor on his pituitary gland, giving him bad vision.

“Goliath, even though he appears to be so strong, he is actually in many ways acutely vulnerable,” says Gladwell. “He’s a big, lumbering, slow-moving giant who’s up against a guy who has superior technology and he can’t even see him.”

Expanding on this metaphor, Gladwell explains how what we traditionally think of as advantages may in fact work against us, and how obstacles can often be what inspires us to overcome.

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.
Credit Business Insider

He uses the theory to explain why some very smart students drop out of certain areas of study at prestigious colleges, and might in fact do better at lesser universities. He also explains that advantages have their limits - such as when a parent of means tries to raise an unspoiled child.

Click here to watch Malcolm Gladwell's TED talk about his interpretation of David and Goliath.

Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell will be appearing in Milwaukee at UWM's Zelazo Center Friday January 31st for a sold-out event, sponsored by at Boswell Book Company.