I loved the first chapter. Were I to have made conclusions about the whole from the first part, they would have been positive. Not that my conclusions from the whole weren't, but the few chapters where I lost interest mute some of that positivity. This chapter is about the title characters - David and Goliath - and it sets the stage for the type of thinking and writing that Gladwell is famous for, and the direction that this novel will take. He questions the universal conception of the underdog and suggest what Phaedrus wrote long ago - "things are not always what they seem." Gladwell suggests that not only did David not play fairly, but also that Goliath, presumably evil giant threatening the poor shepherd boy, suffered from acromegaly (a disease that made him oversized and rendered him unable to see clearly).
Another topic that I found particularly interesting was the chapter on class size. Again, things are not always what they seem. Parents and schools have long pushed for smaller classes, and this is an oft touted "benefit" of private school education. However, Gladwell deconstructs the myth, and rebuilds, with studies and fact, conventional wisdom. Smaller classes are not, as it turns out, better for students. The twists and turns and use of evidence that the author brings in to support this argument are well worth the read.
This theme continues through many eras and cultures, and ultimately concludes in World War II France (and if you know me, you'll know I'm very drawn to WWII topics, and therefore this review likely has been swayed by the subject matter and the conclusions drawn in the last chapter). I so wanted the chapter on Caroline Sacks, a girl who had chosen Brown over University of Maryland for her education and had subsequently been pushed off the science track that she had set herself on when first arriving at college. This paraphrasing butchers the chapter and leaves out many intricacies of the argument and much of the directionality of the chapter; however, this character was someone I was immediately drawn to given my education and choices made in high school. And I had hoped that the conclusions would be more universal. But I felt that the character's story fizzled and the muscle behind her story lost its power as the chapter took shape. I saw many chapters go by way of this one, off into another direction, leaving the story behind and slightly unfinished.
The book to me felt like a university lecture, and a great one at that. I have listened to Gladwell's works in audiobook format in the past, and think this one would have been great too. I think his books, the subject matters that they cover, and the way in which the points are made are very well suited for audiobook format. Not everyone will like every chapter, but I think every reader would likely take away at least one piece of new information, even if it's a new take on an old story. This is definitely one of those books that would be suitable for discussion - in book club, in a class, or even amongst friends. There are so many possibilities that arise from it in terms of questions, and so many other stories that can be grouped under his hypothesis.
Emblematic of the thinking that underlies the entire book, is this quote from the final chapter:
"It is not the privileged and the fortunate who took in the Jews in France. It was the marginal and the damaged, which should remind us that there are real limits to what evil and misfortune can accomplish. If you take away the gift of reading, you create the gift of listening. If you bomb a city, you leave behind death and destruction. But you create a community of remote misses. If you take away a mother or a father, you cause suffering and despair. But one time out of that despair rises an indomitable force."