Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Cutting the Big Boys Down to Size

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Cutting the Big Boys Down to Size

Article excerpt

Byline: LEO ROBSON

DAVID AND GOLIATH: UNDERDOGS, MISFITS AND THE ART OF BATTLING GIANTS by Malcolm Gladwell (Allen Lane, [pounds sterling] 16.99) ABOUT a third of the way into his new book, Malcolm Gladwell describes the "cognitive reflection test", a set of three questions which determine a person's ability to "understand when something is more complex than it appears". Among the high scorers in one batch of results, we learn, 64 per cent preferred, or claimed to prefer, the New Yorker to People magazine. Given that Gladwell's journalism including the essay on underdogs repurposed here appears in the former magazine, you could argue that he has been delivering his revelations about hidden complexity to an audience that doesn't need them.

That's one way to explain the anti-Gladwell sentiment that has developed in the five years since his last book, Outliers, now routinely dismissed as an exercise in peddling the obvious. Clearly, his lessons about the "counterintuitive" have little to teach readers who learned long ago to train or ignore their intuition. But there exists a sort of reader I consider myself one who would do badly in a cognitive reflection test but still believes they prefer the New Yorker to People.

We represent 33 per cent of what Gladwell calls the "low CRT group" a large enough contingent to guarantee the success of his new book, a study of pluck and obstinacy and resourcefulness that also functions, like all of his work, as a synthesis of recent research in various academic disciplines, and a guide to making better choices.

He starts from the presumption that we need to revise our understanding of the David and Goliath story. With help from articles published in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts, International Symposium on Ballistics, and the Journal of the Indiana State Medical Association, he shows that Goliath's apparent advantages also bore disadvantages that, for instance, his size might well have been the product of acromelagy, a disorder that would given him poor eyesight along with a hulking frame. …

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