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Sunday December 21, 2014
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Choose the Slingshot

 

continued

battleground down in the valley, where the smaller and much quicker David could use the force and accuracy of his sling to powerful effect while staying well clear of Goliath's gigantic sword. Gladwell reminds us throughout this book that "much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the art of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty."

That idea, though one that we often encounter in our American optimism, leads Gladwell to his second important point: "the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate." But if Gladwell's book were only a riff on this wonderful old story as a self-help metaphor, it would fall very short indeed.

His real strength, here and in his earlier work, has been to combine those methods perfected by the staff writers of The New Yorker--where Gladwell has worked since 1996--with his own particular abilities to explain ideas we didn't know we cared about. In addition to a prose style that tries to be as clear as possible without sacrificing the possibilities of meaning that grow from complex syntax, Gladwell places the stories of very different subjects next to explanations of current research in the sciences or social sciences. His conclusions often offer a surprisingly optimistic turn on the foibles of our species. That optimism is surely the source of his immense popularity.

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