David and Goliath Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: David and Goliath explains why underdogs win in situations where the odds are stacked unfavorably against them, and how you can do the same.

Read in: 4 minutes

Favorite quote from the author:

David and Goliath Summary

Audio Summary

Listen to the audio of this summary with a free reading.fm account*:

Since last week, Malcolm Gladwell‘s three most famous books – Outliers, The Tipping Point and Blink – all live on Four Minute Books. But he’s written two more, and they’re no less interesting. Sadly What The Dog Saw isn’t on Blinkist yet and I’ll have to get a copy later this year, but David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giantsavid and Goliath is.

Once again, Gladwell draws on historic events and the psychology of highly successful human beings to illustrate that underdogs have advantages. Just like David beat Goliath despite being smaller, weaker and less skilled in battle.

Here are 3 lessons that will change your perspective about what it means to be an underdog:

  1. Living in a privileged environment might hinder your success.
  2. You can turn your learning difficulties into advantages in other fields.
  3. Even if you’re the underdog, you can win against big competitors by relying on your unique skills.

Ready to take on the Goliath’s in your life? No worries, we’ll get you there!

If you want to save this summary for later, download the free PDF and read it whenever you want.

Download PDF

Lesson 1: Living in a privileged environment might hinder your success.

I’ll be the first to come out of the gate and admit this. Growing up with rich parents makes you weak.

I come from an upper-middle-class family, which in today’s world means I never had to work for anything really. I never learned what it means to be hungry, both physically and psychologically. Learning comes easy to me. I had an easy time in school. So when life suddenly got serious, I was surprised.

I’m sure you have friends like this as well. They know they can forever rely on the wealth their parents generated, so they relax and take life easy – but eventually, this slacker attitude comes at a high price.

If you’re poor and have to work in the family business to earn money for even the most basic of things, this makes you tough and helps you succeed in the real world later in life.

For example, if your parents send you to a private, expensive school, where everyone is the teacher’s darling because classes consist of just 10 people, that won’t really help you learn to navigate an environment with many people, which you’ll face later at work.

Going to a less privileged school will make getting good grades harder, but offer more opportunity to learn from other students and interact with them.

Lesson 2: If you have a learning disability, it might actually give you an advantage.

One of my best friends in school was dyslexic. Not only that, because of the local accent in our rural area, he also had a really hard time writing texts in proper German. He’d always get an F on his essays for his horrible spelling and grammar.

But once we were seniors, he started to make up for it with his incredible speaking and presenting skills. He could talk and entertain the entire class about any topic for 45 minutes without a problem after we translated texts together (for example in Latin class). Plus he went on to become a very skilled artist and eventually studied architecture, finishing summa cum laude, top of his class.

Gladwell says disadvantages like such a learning disability can often help us over-develop our skills in other areas, which will make far more than up for it.

When Princeton University changed the font in their intelligence test to a much harder to read style the average score went up from 1.9 to 2.45 out of 3 points. Why? Forcing people to read slower made them think longer and better about the questions, thus increasing their scores.

Remember the baseball and bat question from Thinking Fast and Slow? That’s exactly what this is about.

Lesson 3: Use your own, unique skill set to beat big competitors on your own terms.

Last year I could not stop rambling about the Spartans. Spartan Up was one of the first summaries on here. It never ceases to amaze me how those 300 Spartans beat an entire Persian empire.

Gladwell finally delivers an explanation. Interesting statistic: If an underdog army uses guerrilla tactics in battle, it wins 63% of the time. If it doesn’t and tries to fight fire with fire, it wins in only 29% of battles.

What does that mean? If you’re the underdog, don’t fight your biggest competitor in their domain. Instead, focus on how you can outsmart them with your own individual strengths.

Here’s an example I just learned on a free sightseeing tour of London. If you’ve ever been to Trafalgar Square, you’ll see a statue of Lord Horatio Nelson at the very top of a huge column. In 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar, the English navy was clearly outnumbered with 33 ships facing 41 of the French and Spanish.

The reason they engaged in such a dangerous battle was that they knew, once the French made it to the English homeland, they’d lose because the French army was a lot stronger than the British. But at sea, they could beat them. Thanks to uncommon tactics, like approaching the enemy head-on and circling off parts of the fleet, enclosing them with no escape, the British sunk one French ship and captured 21 others – without losing a single one themselves.

If you’re facing a Goliath and feel like David, don’t compare yourself in physical strength, but think about what you can do that your enemy can’t and you’ll actually have a decent chance of winning.

David and Goliath Review

So many encouraging lessons in David and Goliath for people who often feel like they’re outnumbered, outwitted or just put at an unfair advantage. If you’ve ever felt like an underdog, this is the one for you.

Malcolm Gladwell also gave a fascinating TED talk about this book and subject, a great supplement to reading the book or summary and a definite recommend 🙂

Who would I recommend the David and Goliath summary to?

The 17-year-old in a hobby baseball team, which always battles for survival among the last places of the league, the 41-year-old, who’s spent the majority of her life hiding a cognitive disability, and anyone who constantly feels like an underdog.

Last Updated on July 28, 2022

Rate this book!
This book has an average rating of 4 based on 5 votes.

Niklas Göke

Niklas Göke is an author and writer whose work has attracted tens of millions of readers to date. He is also the founder and CEO of Four Minute Books, a collection of over 1,000 free book summaries teaching readers 3 valuable lessons in just 4 minutes each. Born and raised in Germany, Nik also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration & Engineering from KIT Karlsruhe and a Master’s Degree in Management & Technology from the Technical University of Munich. He lives in Munich and enjoys a great slice of salami pizza almost as much as reading — or writing — the next book — or book summary, of course!