Malcolm Gladwell has made a career of turning ingrained ideas on their heads: In his latest book, “David and Goliath,” the Canadian-born author argues that underdogs possess hidden strengths that actually give them the upper hand. A New Yorker writer since 1996, he’s become one of the world’s most popular thinkers with his highly readable, eye-opening works, which mix expert interviews with research from history, psychology and the social sciences to explain complex social phenomena in unexpected ways. Critics say he oversimplifies, but fans don’t seem to care: To date, Gladwell’s sold millions of books worldwide. With “David and Goliath” on shelves now, we offer up a breakdown of his books and their novel ideas.
Gladwell’s first book is a study of fads that borrows its methodology–and title–from science: In medicine, the “tipping point” is the moment when a disease explodes into an epidemic. Gladwell argues that three elements must be in place for a product or trend to go from popular to viral: the right people need to see it, it’s got to be “sticky” (Gladwell’s term) and it has to arise in the right context. In the era of YouTube, it’s a topic as relevant today as ever.
Behind split-second decisions
Are the decisions we make rooted in “thinking without thinking”? Yes, argues Gladwell in “Blink,” which exposes the power of intuition. “Gladwell says we are thin-slicing all the time — when we go on a date, meet a prospective employee, judge any situation,” wrote David Brooks in a review in the New York Times. “We take a small portion of a person or problem and extrapolate amazingly well about the whole.” In other words: Trust your gut, because usually, it’s spot-on.
What makes a star?
Many of the world’s most powerful people possess more than a modicum of talent and drive. But it’s a perfect cocktail of chance, circumstance, timing and luck that actually propels people to the very tops of their fields, Gladwell argues in his blockbuster book, “Outliers.” You can be great, but without the right chances–and the right responses when you receive them–you’ll never be the best. Or, as Gladwell puts it, “outliers are those who have been given opportunities–and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
Before he was hired at The New Yorker, Gladwell got his start as a science writer at The Washington Post. There, he honed the clear writing style he’d later become known for—a skill he learned from his psychotherapist mom. “My writing model is my mother, who is a writer as well,” he said in an interview in 2008. “She always valued clarity and simplicity above all else.” “What the Dog Saw” is a collection of his articles in The New Yorker.
Why underdogs prevail
The upside-down and inside-out premise of “David and Goliath” is pretty simple: Gladwell argues that perceived strengths (extreme wealth, for example) may in fact undermine success, while adversity can put a person on the path to greatness. Already critics’ reviews are out. What will readers think? Pick up a copy–then let us know in the comments.