December 22, 2014
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Conventional wisdom is challenged in ‘David & Goliath’
11/26/2013 1:00:54 PM

By Daniel Pringle 
Liberty Lake Municipal Library

Malcolm Gladwell's best-selling books describe the sometimes counterintuitive facts behind many everyday things and how much of what we accept as true often is not. "David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants" offers a great example of this theme, as Gladwell examines situations in which the conventional wisdom proves to be wrong. Situations where, looking at it on paper, we would see disaster, instead triumph emerges. Illustrated in the form of personal profiles, Gladwell distills considerable research into relatable stories of times when the expected outcomes don't play out, when an enviable position actually confers a deficit, or when those that appear to be at great disadvantage - a humble shepherd facing a warrior-giant - possess an unexpected edge.

For example, consider these statements: children in smaller classes do better; tough three-strikes-you're-out laws deter crime; a top-tier college will set up even mediocre students for post-grad success; dyslexic children can't rise to the top of corporate or professional echelons.

According to Gladwell, not so: too much attention from teachers and peers disrupts the learning dynamic of a classroom; harsh, unfair sentences delegitimize law enforcement; students surrounded by higher-achieving classmates are less likely to follow through on the challenging degree and profession they intended to pursue; some kids with learning disabilities develop strategies that propel them to the top of the medical, legal or entertainment worlds. With characteristic clarity of language and persuasion, Gladwell asks us to question assumptions like these and never count out the little guy.

Daniel Pringle is adult services and reference librarian at the Liberty Lake Municipal Library.

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