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20131117 Unlucky Goliath

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Malcolm Gladwell found a great recipe for writing bestsellers: take a simple even banal idea, wrap it in a bunch of curious anecdotes that illustrate this idea, and indicate that this idea universally applies to everything in the world. The result is an enjoyable and easy reading without deep dive into complexities of real life.

So the simple idea is that inequality of sides often really works to the advantage of seemingly weaker side with top example of David versus Goliath. The traditional reading is that Goliath, as professional warrior – big, strong, and well armed had huge superiority over simple boy David, so David won by using his specific skills in non-traditional way. The point Gladwell makes is that in reality Davis had advantage because he used projectile against slow moving target that could not effectively defend itself. Leaving alone ridiculousness of this example (after all it was not peasant boys who were living at the expense of big strong warriors, but rather other way around), the idea is not bad. It just had to be taken with a grain of salt and used very sparingly because in real life Goliaths usually win.

The expansion of main idea comes in two directions. One is that disadvantage makes people do thing that they did not know they can do before and achieve things that they would never achieve if the disadvantage would not make them to work double hard. The second expansion is into limits of power. It comes with complexity of life and existence of way too many powers. This part as usual when invoked in humanistic discussion could not held in real life because they take for granted self-imposed humanistic limitation, which often prevent civilized powers to achieve secondary objectives. In reality these limitations are not permanent limitations on everybody by any means. A good example is non-violent movements. Gandy and Martin Luther King were possible only in opposition to relatively civilized and therefore humane power whether of British colonial or American democratically elected administrations. Against non-civilized and non-humane power like Hitler’s Nazis or Stalin’s communists they would be wiped out long before anybody knew they existed. This is really not an assumption, but reality of many people who were crashed by power without limits.

In short a nice book with very limited relation to reality.


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