Just how famous has author and New Yorker scribe Malcolm Gladwell become since the 2000 publication of his pop-sociology tome The Tipping Point? Let’s just say he was recently shouted-out in a rap song alongside David Bowie and Kanye West. (How do you like them Outliers?)
Gladwell’s signature style—using data to turn long-held beliefs on their head—has made him a best-seller four times over, and he once again uses that approach in his latest, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and The Art of Battling Giants.
Inspired by the biblical story of a lowly shepherd boy’s battle with Philistine’s version of The Hulk, the tome—in a nutshell—examines the advantages of disadvantages. (Or, in the author’s own words, “is a book about what happens when ordinary people confront giants.”)
With David and Goliath out today, we present five surprising facts that may leave you scratching your head—and itching to pick up a copy.
Goliath may have had a tumor.
Gladwell puts forth many reasons why Goliath’s victory over David was anything but a foregone conclusion, but the most illuminating may have to do with the giant’s health. Experts now believe that Goliath may have suffered from acromegaly, a disease caused by a benign tumor of the pituitary gland. In addition to his towering stature, he likely also suffered the side effect of vision loss. How are you supposed to defeat the little guy when you can’t even see him?
Suicide rates are higher in happy countries.
Counterintuitive, yes, but data supports the assertion that more people kill themselves in countries in which citizens describe themselves as happy, compared to those in which citizens describe themselves as not very happy. It can all be summed up by the idea of “relative deprivation.” Gladwell writes: “Citizens of happy countries have higher suicide rates than citizens of unhappy countries, because they look at the smiling faces around them and the contrast is too great.”
About 30 percent of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic.
You can count Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, and Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn among high-profile business leaders who suffer from the learning disorder (which affects about 10 to 15 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Dyslexia Research Institute). Depending on how you look at it, you could say these entrepreneurs succeeded in spite of their dyslexia or, in part, because of their dyslexia. (If you’re Gladwell, you’ll likely assert the latter, as this is a book about turning disadvantages into advantages, after all.) The author does note, however, that there are also a “remarkable number” of dyslexics in prison, too.
Incarceration begets incarceration.
Speaking of prison, children who have at least one parent behind bars have a 300 to 400 percent increased risk of juvenile delinquency. The odds of a serious psychiatric disorder also increase by 250 percent. The numbers speak for themselves, but what do they say? According to Gladwell, there may be diminishing returns to cracking down on criminals. In fact, this can even be seen on a neighborhood level. Quoting criminologist Todd Clear: “If more than two percent of the neighborhood goes to prison, the effect on crime starts to reverse.”
IKEA was saved by Poland.
After meatballs and ABBA, few things scream “Sweden” quite like furniture behemoth IKEA. But in the mid-1950s, when manufacturers boycotted the company due to their low prices, founder Ingvar Kamprad turned to an unlikely ally for help filling his orders: Poland. (Did we mention this was during the Cold War?) Gladwell writes: “The equivalent today would be Walmart setting up shop in North Korea. Most people wouldn’t even think of doing business in the land of the enemy for fear of being branded a traitor. Not Kamprad. He didn’t care a whit for what others thought of him.” Meatballs for everyone!
Do you think you’ll pick up Gladwell’s latest book?