David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

Authority’s Limits

  • Here Gladwell uses the example of California’s three strike law to show how past a certain point, cracking down on crime stops having any effect on criminals, and may even make crime worse. The more general notion is that there comes a point where the extra resources of the powerful only serve to make things worse. He uses the crack down by British troops in Northern Ireland as another example. Part of the problem is the collateral damage ex convicts do when they return to their community. There is also a severe impact on children who have a parent incarcerated. Past a certain age, locking people up makes less sense as crime rates drop precipitously after the age of thirty. In short, there comes a time when the best-intentioned application of power and authority begins to backfire.
  • Doug: I see many examples of this in schools where administrators go overboard with punishments. This just serves to feed what is called the school to prison pipeline. When you suspend a student, their chances of keeping up with the work often go out the door with them and all you do is speed up the drop out process. Administrators who are overly harsh are also seen as unfair, which promotes the notion that it is cool to be punished so you can stand with others who you think have been unfairly treated. If you want examples just take a run through my leadership archives.

Force Leads to Defiance

  • The final chapter reinforces the notion that the excessive use of force creates legitimacy problems, and force without legitimacy leads to defiance, not submission. The powerful are not as powerful as they seem, nor the weak as weak. Gladwell uses the story of a remote Huguenot village in the French mountains near Switzerland during world war II to make this point. The people in this village openly took in Jewish children and smuggled Jews into Switzerland in defiance of the Germans and the puppet French government. It was not the privileged and the fortunate who took in the Jews in France. It was the marginalized and the damaged, which should tell us that there are real limits to what evil and misfortunate can accomplish. In conclusion, the stories in this book are informational and inspirational. They are also told with a skill that few writers possess. Be sure to click below to buy one for yourself and gifts for others.

Malcolm Gladwell

  • Malcolm has been a staff writer with The New Yorker magazine since 1996. From 1987 to 1996, he was a reporter with the Washington Post, where he covered business, science, and then served as the newspaper’s New York City bureau chief. He graduated from the University of Toronto, Trinity College, with a degree in history. He was born in England, grew up in rural Ontario, and now lives in New York City.
  • He is also the author of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference, (2000), Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, (2005), and Outliers: The Story of Success (2008). They were all number one New York Times bestsellers. Click the above links for my summaries.
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