Malcolm Gladwell’s books challenge common perceptions about human behavior. Maybe certain individuals have the power to tip groupthink in new directions. Maybe trusting your gut is better than overanalyzing a tough decision. And maybe what we commonly perceive as weakness can in fact be a strength. The latter is the theme of his new book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.” Gladwell joins Kojo to talk about the power of the underdog and the naysayers who challenge his conclusions.


  • Malcolm Gladwell Staff Writer at The New Yorker; Author of "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference;" His new book is "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants" (Little, Brown 2013)

Featured Clip

Malcolm Gladwell credits his writing and reporting skills to his 10-year stint at The Washington Post. He says one of the most powerful lessons he learned during his time there is that shortcuts will not be tolerated. “You must do your homework before you open your mouth,” Gladwell said.

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  • 13:06:39

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's a story we all know. The shepherd boy, David, takes on the mighty warrior Goliath, and miraculously wins. From that ancient legend comes the modern day notion that against all odds, the underdog can sometimes pull out a victory. But author Malcolm Gladwell says we've got the story backwards, that if you look at the facts, Goliath could hardly move in his heavy armor, and David was a skilled marksman with his stone and sling.

  • 13:07:22

    MR. KOJO NNAMDISo, David wasn't the underdog in that unusual matchup. Goliath was. In his new book, Gladwell challenges the popular notion that bigger is always better, and suggests that traits we often equate with weakness can, in fact, be strengths. Malcolm Gladwell joins us in studio to talk about his newest book and about what it takes to battle a giant and win. He is a writer for The New Yorker, and we mentioned he is the author of several books. He is the author of "The Tipping Point." His new book, "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants." Malcolm Gladwell, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:07:57

    MR. MALCOLM GLADWELLGlad to be here.

  • 13:07:58

    NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Malcolm Gladwell, you can start calling now. 800-433-8850. Why did you pick the biblical story of David and Goliath to frame your book, and how have we somehow manage to misinterpret the underlying meaning of this story for 3,000 years?

  • 13:08:16

    GLADWELLWell, I picked it because it's the quintessential story of asymmetrical conflict. A contest between two very uneven parties. And, it's always, I think it's always useful to start with the dominant metaphor and ask the question, is it -- do we perceive it accurately? And I open my book with a kind of retelling of that story, pointing out that one, David's sling is not a -- it's not a sling -- people often sometimes say, call it a sling shot, like it's a child's toy. It's one of the most devastating weapons in ancient times, a sling is.

  • 13:08:59

    GLADWELLI had a hilarious conversation with a ballistics expert from the Israeli Defense Force, who had done the math on it, and said that the stopping power of a stone that came from David's sling was the equivalent of a 45 caliber hand gun. This is a -- he's well armed. And once he decides not to fight Goliath with swords, he has superior technology. And then there's Goliath, who -- there's this fascinating literature on -- among endocrinologists about Goliath, because he seems to fit the pattern of someone suffering from Acromegaly, which is giantism.

  • 13:09:35

    GLADWELLYou know, when the pituitary...

  • 13:09:37

    NNAMDIAndre the Giant.

  • 13:09:37

    GLADWELLAndre the Giant. A fellow Canadian. Had acro -- so, people who are unusually tall, one of the first suspicions we have to account for their size is whether they have this aberration in their pituitary gland, which is overproducing human growth hormone. Well, that comes with, often comes with a side effect, which is sharply reduced vision. Because the tumor on your pituitary gland restricts the optic nerves. And Goliath, if you examine the biblical story closely, he acts an awful lot like a guy who can't see.

  • 13:10:14

    GLADWELLOr at least can't see more than a few feet in front of his face. Why does it take him so long to understand that David isn't dressed for combat? Why is he led onto the valley floor by an attendant, which is weirdest note in the bible. And Samuel tells us, it's this strange moment where they describe, the mightiest warrior in all of ancient times has to be led by the hand to the floor of the Valley of Elah to meet his opponent. Why?

  • 13:10:37

    GLADWELLI mean, you add all that stuff together and you realize, oh, he's not nearly as dangerous as he looks.

  • 13:10:43

    NNAMDIAnd speaking of adding, if you add the weight of what he was wearing at the time...

  • 13:10:46

    GLADWELLOh, he's wearing 100 pounds of armor. He's a sitting duck. He's this lumbering, you know, visually impaired guy who has the completely wrong idea about the battle that's gonna be fought.

  • 13:11:00

    NNAMDIThis is not a guy who is about to lead a fast break and dunk a basketball. He's wearing a lot of armor. The first story you tell in the book is that of a Silicon Valley father who coaches his daughter's middle school basketball team. The girls aren't tall, can't shoot or dribble very well. He is initially from India. He played, like me, cricket and soccer. How does he turn their apparent weakness into a winning strategy that carries the team to the national championships?

  • 13:11:27

    GLADWELLHe -- I love that story, because it's a beautiful example of David's strategies in the, sort of, the real world. So, here's a man who knows nothing about basketball and is coaching, as you said, a team of 12 year old girls who don't know how to play basketball. And he goes and observes games, and he comes away convinced that the conventional way people play basketball in America is all wrong. Why would you retreat back on defense and wait for the other team to bring the ball up?

  • 13:11:56

    GLADWELLParticularly if you're a terrible team. Why would you let your opponent do the thing that makes your opponent better than you? So he decides to have his team play the full court press every minute of every game. And the most aggressive form of the full court press. And he decides, also, that he's not even gonna bother teaching them to run plays, how to shoot, how to dribble, how to pass. They're just gonna do maniacal defense and shoot layups.

  • 13:12:22

    GLADWELLAnd he goes, he takes this team of, you know, of random 12 year olds all the way to national championship. It's a very funny story about the kinds of strategies that you are forced to contemplate if you have nothing. And that's the essence of one of David's paradoxical advantages.

  • 13:12:43

    NNAMDIIf you've ever had a 12 year old sister, and you imagine she and her friends indulging in a full court press for the entire game, whether or not they're skilled at basketball, you're in trouble.

  • 13:12:55

    GLADWELLIt is a slightly ferocious thought.

  • 13:12:58

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation with Malcolm Gladwell. His latest book is called, "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants." Malcolm Gladwell is a writer for The New Yorker and author of "The Tipping Point." Another example of turning weakness into strength comes from the civil rights movement. How did Martin Luther King Jr.'s behind the scenes organizer, Wyatt Walker, turn a small band of demonstrators into a crowd in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963?

  • 13:13:32

    GLADWELLYeah, this is, might be my favorite chapter in the book. It's the story of what happened in, perhaps, the most famous of the civil rights confrontations of the 60's. And Wyatt Walker is this fascinating figure who's Martin Luther King's, kind of, his number two, his guy who does all the behind the scenes work. And he's masterminding the strategy up against Bull Connor in Birmingham. And the basic problem they have is that they can't get -- nobody will join up.

  • 13:14:07

    GLADWELLPeople forget. The early days of the Birmingham protest, when they were running these daily protests out of the 16th Street Baptist Church, they would have 12 people. And so Bull Connor was just sitting there and laughing at them. They weren't mounting any kind of threat to the white establishment. And what happens is that Wyatt Walker starts to play a series of ever more elaborate tricks on Bull Connor and on the predominantly white media. And I'm not gonna give away his biggest trick.

  • 13:14:34

    NNAMDIPlease don't.

  • 13:14:34

    GLADWELLBecause that's the punch line of the chapter. But, one of his tricks is he understands -- one day, he comes out, the march is delayed for a number of reasons, and by the time they do their daily march from the church, it's after quitting time. So, all of these, you know, African Americans working downtown, have come just to see what's going on at 16th Street Baptist Church. So they march down out of the church, and all these bystanders are watching, and the next day in the paper, Wyatt Walker reads that his protest had numbered, you know, 1200 people.

  • 13:15:12

    GLADWELLAnd what he realized is the reporters can't tell the difference between bystanders and marchers.

  • 13:15:18

    NNAMDIThey're all black folk.

  • 13:15:20

    GLADWELLThey're all black folk. They all look the same. So, this is a hilarious moment where he goes, oh, I get it. So, then, from then, that starts this absolutely brilliant series of slight of hand that end up in one of the greatest victories of the civil rights movement.

  • 13:15:35

    NNAMDIIs it over the top to say that, in some respect, you consider Wyatt Walker diabolical in a highly moral interest?

  • 13:15:42

    GLADWELLYeah. He's -- Wyatt Walker is one of -- is an extraordinary character. I mean, he's, it is impossible not to fall in love with him when you're reading or writing about the civil rights movement. But he is. I mean, he has that thing. I mean, we forget about Birmingham. King was -- King and Walker and the others, who were Fred Shuttlesworth, who were involved in that protest, were required to do things that were incredibly controversial. You know, the children's march, at one point in the escalation of their conflict, they enlisted the kids of -- the black kids of Birmingham to march on Bull Connor.

  • 13:16:25

    GLADWELLAnd those children were arrested, and taken to big holding camps, and mistreated, and their parents didn't know where they were. And King was denounced across the entire country as someone who was -- Malcolm X said -- denounced him -- Malcolm X said, how dare you send children to do a man's work? You know, on the floor of Congress, he was denounced. I mean, it was the kind of risks they were required to take in the cause, in a larger cause, were extraordinary.

  • 13:16:53

    GLADWELLAnd they did that because that's what underdogs have to do, right? They have to try these kinds of dangerous strategies.

  • 13:17:01

    NNAMDISpeaking of underdogs trying dangerous strategies, I was just thinking about how the analogy of David and Goliath might now be applied in the shutdown that we're facing in the Congress of the United States. I'm sure it's something that you have given thought to. What if someone said to you, well, you know, I see somebody like Senator Ted Cruz, I see the 30 or 40 conservative members of the House of Representatives who had been trying for years to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.

  • 13:17:28

    NNAMDIAnd finally, they decided, look, the government, the Obama Administration, the Democrats in the Senate, because they're the majority, that's Goliath. We are David. We have one sling shot. We have one sling shot here, and our only shot is to use our opposition to Obamacare to initiate a government shutdown and to take us as close to not raising the debt ceiling as possible. How would you think the analogy would fit here?

  • 13:17:53

    GLADWELLI think you're absolutely right. So, one of the things I talk about in my book is this notion of disagreeableness. By which, I don't mean obnoxiousness, but rather the quality that innovators, entrepreneurs, disruptors have, is, very often, disagreeableness. They have, they are not people who require the approval of their peers. And that, in the best case scenario, makes it possible for them to do extraordinary things, to try ideas the rest of us would shrink from, because we're not prepared to put up with the flack associated with doing something revolutionary.

  • 13:18:28

    GLADWELLI have a chapter on a cancer researcher who does this, tries this outrageous strategy against leukemia, and it works, right? He's magnificently disagreeable. He doesn't care what his peers think, even though they're denouncing him and -- well, disagreeableness, when the underlying idea is important, is something that we celebrate, but there are also cases when the disagreeable do things that we aren't necessarily crazy about, and may not be for the betterment of mankind.

  • 13:18:56

    GLADWELLNow, whether or not this falls into this -- the last thing a Canadian Jamaican who lives in New York wants to do is to get roped into a discussion about the debt ceiling in Washington, D.C., but is this a -- is what's going on and with the Tea Party an example of disagreeableness in action? Sure. They're completely indifferent to what other people think of them, right? They're willing to try any strategy.

  • 13:19:18

    NNAMDIWell, this Canadian Jamaican, who lives in New York, once lived right here in Washington, D.C….

  • 13:19:22

    GLADWELLI did.

  • 13:19:23

    NNAMDIAnd reported for The Washington Post, so whether he wants to or not, he's in it. Onto the telephones, could you put on your headphones, please, so we can hear from Jacob in Silver Spring, Maryland? Jacob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:19:34

    JACOBThank you. I've read some reports that, in the experience of writing this book on a biblical story and some inspiring tales that it may have stirred up some spiritual or religious experiences for you. But, what I've read seemed kind of speculative, and I just wondered if you would want to comment on that.

  • 13:19:56

    GLADWELLYeah. I mean, the last third of this book is really about faith. It's about how religious faith gives people, who would seem to have no worldly power and resources, enormous power. And I tell a series of stories about faith at the end. And in writing that part of the book I was so moved and sort of awestruck by what religious faith makes people capable of, that I have been -- I grew up in a religious household and in a very religious world. And I have been moved to kind of reexamine that, to come closer to something that I had drifted away from.

  • 13:20:46

    NNAMDIGrew up in a Mennonite community in southwester Ontario in Canada.

  • 13:20:50


  • 13:20:50

    NNAMDIIs that what you've been drifting back to?

  • 13:20:52

    GLADWELLYeah, that's -- I mean, I don't -- I sort of feel -- it's odd, I never expected to be talking about this and it kind of came -- and I feel very awkward talking about something so personal in public. But that's probably the best way to describe -- it was, I have to say -- there's a particular story in the book about a woman named Wilma Dirkson who is a Mennonite and who forgives the murderer of her daughter. And I challenge anyone to read that story and not come to some greater understanding of the power of religious faith.

  • 13:21:26

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. You can send email to We're talking with Malcolm Gladwell. His latest book is called "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants." I wanted you to talk about that story a little bit more for a second because the flipside of the underdog prevailing is that sometimes the powerful miscalculate. Sometimes wielding too much power can eventually backfire.

  • 13:21:54

    NNAMDIExplain to us the cases of two families that each lost a daughter who was killed. One father decided to employ what you called the full power of the state to relieve his grief and he became the catalyst behind California's three-strikes law. The other family, Mennonites in Winnipeg, Canada chose to forgive and move on. Why did they each make different decisions about the power of the bully pulpit they suddenly had?

  • 13:22:21

    GLADWELLIt's such an interesting question. The -- so yeah, so here I -- that chapter tells two stories that are on the surface identical. Two normal middle-class families tragically have their teenage daughter murdered by some maniac. The first case is about a guy named Mike Reynolds in California. And his response to his daughter's murder is to lead the political campaign that ended in three strikes, which was and is -- although it has now been scaled back -- probably the most punitive criminal justice reform in the history of the last 50 years in the western world.

  • 13:23:08

    GLADWELLI mean, it turned California -- California's prison population doubled in ten years as a result of three strikes. They were putting people away in jail for trivial crimes for life if it was their third strike. This woman Wilma Dirkson in Canada, the Mennonite woman, who had exactly the same thing happen to her, responded not by trying to enlist the power of the state to seek some kind of retribution for her daughter's death. But she drew on her own religious faith and on the response the Mennonites have had historically to their history of persecution, which is to say when they are persecuted we forgive.

  • 13:23:50

    GLADWELLAnd she stood up and she said, whoever this person was who killed my daughter, who tortured her daughter and then killed her, she said, I forgive him. He clearly needs God's love. And if you tell these two stories in parallel you get this -- all of your preexisting notions about what -- where power lies I think are thrown into upheaval. Because one person passed a law in the largest state in the country that had the effect of spending billions of dollars in incarcerating thousands and thousands of people. He's the one who had power, right?

  • 13:24:30

    GLADWELLAnd what happened? It was a disaster. I mean, the -- I think generally it's considered now that three strikes was one of the most wrongheaded policy decisions in the United States of -- in the last generation. The other woman had no power whatsoever. All she -- but no worldly power. What she had was her faith. And what did she do? She healed her family and her own heart and her community. And, you know, the difference was faith, you know.

  • 13:24:58

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. Here is Sandra in Landover, Md. Sandra, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:25:06

    SANDRAYes. I've recently read the book "Daring Greatly" by Brene Brown. And she really reexamines the concept of vulnerability the way we've reinterpreted it. And I'm interested in Mr. Gladwell's take on how we look at the word -- how we interpret the word vulnerability, how it can actually be a really positive asset in every area.

  • 13:25:33


  • 13:25:34

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call.

  • 13:25:36

    GLADWELLYeah, I mean, I -- that sounds like a very sort of similar theme that I'm exploring in "David and Goliath," because what I'm interested in is the -- that facing some kind of obstacle being vulnerable to some kind of problem, insult, disaster, catastrophe can have a number of effects on people. We're familiar with the negative effects of those kinds of hardships but what we often overlook is that some people, for any number of interesting reasons, manage to gain from those kinds of -- that kind of adversity enormous strength. Learn things they would never have learned otherwise.

  • 13:26:22

    NNAMDIWe've got to take a short break but when we come back I'd like you to give an example of that about how surviving a harrowing experience can make us stronger as in the case of survivors of the Nazi bombing in World War II in London. But, as I said, we've got to take a short break. But if you have called or if you'd like to call the number's 800-433-8850. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. What trait do you think is often perceived as a weakness but is in fact a strength, 800-433-8850? We're discussing Malcolm Gladwell's latest book "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:36:34

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Malcolm Gladwell. His latest book is called "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants." He's a writer for the New Yorker and well known as the author of "The Tipping Point." We're inviting you to join the conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850. Malcolm Gladwell, you discuss how surviving a harrowing experience can make us stronger. How do survivors of the Nazi bombing of London during World War II make that case, or people who have lost a parent at a young age?

  • 13:37:05

    GLADWELLYeah, there's a -- the blitz during the Second World War is this very strange story because the British military knew the Germans were going to bomb London. And they were deeply concerned about the consequences. They knew they couldn't -- there's nothing they could do to stop the German bombers. And they felt that if the Germans were raining bombs on London night after night over the course of many months that the people of London would panic and flea the city. And they really thought they would probably lose the war over that one.

  • 13:37:40

    GLADWELLSo they had all these extraordinary plans to prepare for it. They set up psychiatric hospitals. I mean, they just sat there -- mostly what they did was just sit there and -- in a state of nervous anxiety. And what happened when the bombers came, they came just as they predicted, but the effect on the people living in London was the exact opposite of what they had thought. The panic never came. And so there were always attempts after the war to figure out why not.

  • 13:38:08

    GLADWELLAnd what they realized was that some small number of people who were -- you know, who had a bomb drop on their house and crawled out of the wreckage, they were deeply affected by the bombing. But the paradox of bombing is that if you go through a series of experiences where bombs are dropping all around you and you survive, you get stronger. You no longer fear bombing the way you did before.

  • 13:38:34

    GLADWELLSo by the end of the war there was this weird experience that -- by the end of the blitz rather, that Londoners were walking around nonchalantly while the air raid sirens were going off and bombs were falling all around them. People stopped being -- they got over it. It's this sort of weird observation about how people's responses to very, very adverse situations are actually quite varied, and as a category of responses in which you come out way stronger.

  • 13:39:05

    GLADWELLAnd that's -- so I use that to examine this really curious phenomenon of why so many British prime ministers and American presidents have lost a parent when they were very young. It's an astonishingly high number, far higher than the general population. And the argument that people have made in looking at this is that it's exactly the same as the London bombing. They went through the worst thing that could happen to a child. They realized that they survived and were fine. And that made them extraordinarily capable of dealing with stress and disappointment and all kinds of things that are a necessary part of political life.

  • 13:39:41

    NNAMDII now look at my twins with new respect because they lost their mother when they were both ten years old. They're now, of course, in their early 40s, but you have caused me now to look at them with new respect for having been able to deal with that. You have been described as an intellectual provocateur, someone who relishes upsetting our common understanding of human nature. And who may be single-handedly responsible for a whole new genre of writing in thought. What's your goal with the books you write?

  • 13:40:10

    GLADWELLWell, that -- first, let me say that that description of me is a vast overstatement. I simply want to -- my goal is just to get people to look at their world a little differently, and I want to start conversations. I don't imagine that people will agree with everything I say. But in my best case scenario, people will -- I want -- you know, I have two chapters in this book on education. I'd love to start vigorous discussions around those two topics. I think that would be really productive. So that's all. I'm a conversation starter.

  • 13:40:42

    NNAMDISome critics of our work say you come up with theories, then cherry-pick anecdotes to back them up. How do you respond to those who say your work doesn't stand up to intellectual rigor?

  • 13:40:53

    GLADWELLWell, I would say that I am not trying to publish my books in the psychological literature. They're not the equivalent of scholarly papers. It's journalism. And I'm writing essays about ideas, and I'm taking chances with ideas and, you know, putting trial balloons up for consideration. So I sort of agree with them. But I think there's a role for that. I think not everyone -- not every single intellectual discussion has to be as rigorous as the kind of discussion that takes place inside a university faculty.

  • 13:41:32

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Carl on Capitol Hill, speaking of critics. Carl says, "Some years ago, Mr. Gladwell wrote an article on auto safety for The New Yorker. You relished putting Ralph Nader down for his activities in that field. Could you ask him how he regards Nader in the context of David vs. Goliath?" I did not see the article, so I don't know if he is characterizing your attitude correctly.

  • 13:41:55

    GLADWELLOh, it was an article in which I pointed that Nader got -- I felt that Nader never really believed in seatbelts. And so this is an article about seatbelts, about -- which remain the single most important contribution to auto safety of the last 50 years or so. And so I just talked about why he struggled so much with that concept and what the consequences of it were. I wouldn't describe it as a hostile piece.

  • 13:42:24

    GLADWELLI mean, Nader is -- Ralph Nader is one of the great heroes of the 20th century. I mean, he's an extraordinary figure. But I was just fascinated by how they were in the field of auto safety. There were a series of misconceptions. That had the effect of warping our policy, our public policy. That's all.

  • 13:42:45

    NNAMDI800-433-8850, the number if you'd like to join the conversation. Have you overcome a hardship in your life that's made you a stronger person? Have you ever used a weakness to your advantage? 800-433-8850. Can you talk about your writing process? You left The Washington Post in 1996 to become a writer at The New Yorker.

  • 13:43:04

    GLADWELLMm hmm.

  • 13:43:04

    NNAMDIHow has your journalism background shaped the way you approach your books?

  • 13:43:09

    GLADWELLWell, I learned -- I was at The Washington Post for almost 10 years, and it was a -- I received the greatest education a journalist can receive. I learned -- I was taught how to report and how to write clearly. And I received -- I sort of understood how important editors are, and I -- so I had -- I sort of feel like I had this unbelievable training at one of the great journalistic institutions in the world.

  • 13:43:35

    GLADWELLAnd that's always made me -- I feel like I'm someone -- I still -- I think I've still retained the thing that I learned at The Washington Post, which is you must do your homework before you open your mouth. You could not get away, as I'm sure it's still true today -- that place at the Post, you can't get away with taking shortcuts. Right? It's not tolerated. And that was a really powerful lesson, you know. And I've never forgotten it.

  • 13:44:07

    NNAMDIYou wrote recently in The New Yorker about doping in sports, asking why it's fine for athletes to have performance-enhancing eye surgery, for instance, but not to take performance-enhancing drugs. You're a runner yourself. What's your position on doping?

  • 13:44:21

    GLADWELLWell, I was -- that article was a little bit of mischief.

  • 13:44:26

    GLADWELLI am a runner. And I would be horrified if my favorite runner, Mo Farah, was found to be doping. I would sink into a depression that would last for weeks. So I'm not in favor of doping. However, it is incumbent on those of us who don't like doping to come up with good reasons for why doping is a bad idea.

  • 13:44:47

    GLADWELLRight now, we have lousy reasons, and I -- that piece is all about how lousy our reasons are. So it's sort of a challenge to those of us, like myself, who want a clean -- who want clean sports. Let's do a better job of justifying it. You can't -- baseball, I talk about baseball. Baseball's crazy. A pitcher can basically have Tommy John surgery and import a tendon from a cadaver and make a bionic arm, and that's fine.

  • 13:45:15

    GLADWELLBut for A-rod to take testosterone is not fine. Why is that? That's the lamest argument I've ever heard, that it's okay to have performance-enhancing surgery but not take a performance-enhancing substance. I -- you know, if we don't come up with better reasons, people are going to keep doping.

  • 13:45:32

    NNAMDIIt's the provocateur in you. Do you have your own personal David and Goliath story? Is there an episode or event in your life when you used a perceived weakness to your advantage?

  • 13:45:42

    GLADWELLYou know, I am incredibly bad at questions that reflect on me.

  • 13:45:47

    NNAMDISame here.

  • 13:45:49

    GLADWELLSo I never know. I should have one at the ready. I don't. I had a remarkably unstressful life so far, so I -- this is really my -- this book is all about me looking at people who have had extraordinary lives and marveling at them.

  • 13:46:04

    NNAMDII know every time I'm interviewed, somebody's going to say, do you remember one moment you had on the radio in your long time on the radio that stands out more than any one other moment, and I can never actually remember what that moment was.

  • 13:46:14

    GLADWELLYou couldn't remember. That's right.

  • 13:46:17

    NNAMDIYou chose a biblical story for the title of this book, and you start each section with a biblical epitaph. How do you think faith and religion affect people's ability to turn weaknesses into strengths?

  • 13:46:29

    GLADWELLWell, as I said before in answer to that first question, I think it plays an enormous role, that this notion of faith, that the kind of -- like, the book ends with this discussion, for example, of these Huguenots in France during the second World War, this group of dissident Protestants up in the mountains who defy the Nazis and take in thousands of Jews and tell the Nazis they're taking them in and basically are indifferent to what happens.

  • 13:46:59

    GLADWELLAnd that is a story -- these people are not superheroes. They aren't, like, imbued with some kind of a one in a million testosterone combination that makes them, you know, unusually heroic. They're just people who really, really, truly believe in the power that religious faith gives them. And that makes them an extraordinary opponent. It was really hard for the Nazis to know what to do with these people.

  • 13:47:26

    NNAMDIThey kept bringing in more and more.

  • 13:47:28

    GLADWELLThey would bring in more and more Jews, and they would inform the government, we are. And they were sort of at a loss. I mean, it's this fascinating story because, now, nothing ended up -- the Nazis could have wiped them out. They didn't, for whatever reason. But that's not what's important.

  • 13:47:42

    GLADWELLWhat's interesting is that these guys were perfectly willing to do what no one else in France was doing at that time, or very few people were willing to do, which is to stand up to overwhelming force and say, I don't actually care what you do to me. This is the right thing. And my argument -- it's not my argument.

  • 13:47:59

    GLADWELLThe fact is that that extraordinary moral strength, it came from God. I mean, it didn't come from anywhere else. They didn't get it over the Internet. I mean, so it's like that's -- you sort of have to appreciate the power of that.

  • 13:48:16

    NNAMDIHere's Bridget in Damascus, Md. Hi, Bridget.

  • 13:48:20

    BRIDGETHi. How are you?

  • 13:48:21

    NNAMDII'm well.

  • 13:48:22

    BRIDGETYeah. So, anyways, I just wanted to comment, you know. When I was younger, you know, my parents divorced at a very young age. It was very messy, actually. My mom took us out to New Mexico. My dad came and kidnapped me, brought me home. We lived, you know, in a little apartment. I remember my mom struggling.

  • 13:48:41

    BRIDGETShe sometimes had to bring us, you know, to work with her in the middle of the night, and we'd sleep on the floor in her office at the hospital. And I remember, as a child, thinking all of this was unusual, but I also remember thinking to myself, you know, well, I'm going to grow from this. And when I...

  • 13:48:57

    NNAMDIMm hmm.

  • 13:48:57

    BRIDGET...get older, I'm going to make sure that I have a really good job that supports me and my children, no matter what. And then, again, when I was in college, in my sophomore year, my dad came down with Lou Gehrig's disease, and I had to slowly watch him go through the process of dying. And I remember it being a very stressful time, you know, 16 credits, lots of things going on. You know, we pushed through -- it was a very fast-moving Lou Gehrig's, so it was a four-month process.

  • 13:49:26

    BRIDGETAnd at the very end of it, I made sure that, you know, I grieved. I -- anyone who asked me, I said, no, I'm not doing well. And I would cry to them. And I went through that process. And, again, I think that it really helped me kind of have a perspective on life that was very unique to my friends. And to this day, I still have people tell me, you know, you really have a lot of great ideas and a lot of great perspectives.

  • 13:49:48

    BRIDGETAnd they look for me, you know, to me for advice. And then when I started getting into my childbearing years, I -- we lost our first child at 24 weeks, so, again, it was a huge process. But by then, it was almost like I had already gone through all these rehearsals of major stresses. Where do I turn to for support? How do I perceive this event? Do I take it as, you know, I'm a victim? Or do I turn around and think of it as, you know, what do I -- from it?

  • 13:50:17

    BRIDGETAnd I have found that, through life, if I just take these life events that are so terrible, and if I at least find something that helps me grow from this, I can help someone else who's gone through this. Or it helps me be more patient...

  • 13:50:32


  • 13:50:32

    BRIDGET...or, like, speak with me about something that's wrong about myself, you know, that's kind of what I've taken from it.

  • 13:50:36

    NNAMDIOkay. Here's Malcolm Gladwell.

  • 13:50:39

    GLADWELLYeah. No, it's -- thank you for sharing that with us. You know, the really interesting question is, what is it about you and your parents or your upbringing or what is it about your situation that allowed you to find strength in that kind of adversity? Because many people who go through very, very similar things would be crushed by it.

  • 13:51:03

    GLADWELLThat's a question, like, I come back to again and again in the book, which is that -- how is it possible for two people to go through the exact same kind of adversity and yet have two completely different outcomes, one strengthened and the other diminished? And that's, to me, that's one of the great questions of human psychology.

  • 13:51:24

    NNAMDIA question that you will find dealt with extensively in the new book "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants." Malcolm Gladwell's a writer for The New Yorker and the author of "The Tipping Point." Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:51:38

    GLADWELLIt's been a real pleasure, Kojo.

  • 13:51:40

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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