Book 92: David and Goliath



"We think of underdog victories as improbable events: that's why the story of David and Goliath has resonated so strongly all these years. But [the] point is that they aren't at all. Underdogs win all the time. Why, then, are we so shocked every time a David beats a Goliath? Why do we automatically assume that someone who is smaller or poorer or less skilled is necessarily at a disadvantage?"

Dates read: September 22-24, 2016

Rating: 7/10

I am a short, hourglassy, relatively attractive lady with long hair. I love to dress myself in styles that are hyper-feminine: florals and bright colors and the kind of 50s-style fit and flare silhouette that tends to flatter my figure. I am also a woman who has worked in male-dominated industries (the law and politics) for my adult professional career. A lot of dudes don't take me seriously because I'm a bubbly little thing that dresses like a cupcake. Professionally outmaneuvering and coming out ahead of these dudes is one of my great pleasures in life.

You see, me being the whole way that I am tends to not fit in with ideas, particularly men's ideas, about what kind of person should be taken seriously. And how our brains fail us in our perceptions and value judgments is what Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath is all about. Gladwell takes us through a variety of situations, from the titular story to classroom sizes to policing tactics and everything in between, to show us how our preconceived notions, particularly of weakness or strength, often fail us.

My interest in psychology has always tended towards mental illness and treatment, but cognitive psychology is fascinating in its own right. Our brains take in so much information constantly that we simply have to derive shortcuts in order to be at all efficient in processing it. Most of the time, these shortcuts work...but not all the time. My favorite portion of the book might actually be the opening section about the title pair. Gladwell walks us through how what we think of a young man with a slingshot against an enormous armored warrior is very different than how that same scenario would have played out in its own time and context. But our brains hear "young man with slingshot" and "enormous armored warrior" and create a whole picture, and while that will usually be close enough to the truth, it won't always be. It wasn't for David.

This was my first experience with Malcolm Gladwell's books, but before I read it I burned through the first season of his podcast "Revisionist History" on recommendation from my husband (which I also recommend to all of you, it's great). This sort of thing seems like it's his wheelhouse: cognition and perception and their quirks. He's got a distinctive and enjoyable authorial voice: I could "hear" him and his cadences in my head as I was reading the words on the page, which was odd but neat. If you like reading about how you might not know what you think you know, I'd recommend this book. It's a quick, interesting, and enjoyable read!

Tell me, blog friends: what's your favorite podcast?

One year ago, I was reading: Life Itself

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