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Accessing their services just for the book summaries is well worth the cost. Below is a sample from the November edition of Leader’s Edge Book Summary of Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath. Each book summary includes the content of the book by category of:

  • Best chapter
  • Best quotes
  • Best illustration
  • Best idea
  • Best take away
  • Recommendation


David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, October 2013, Hardcover 320 pages. Also available in Kindle format (B00BAXFAOW).

ISBN: 978-0-316-20436-1


In typical Malcom Gladwell style David and Goliath challenges assumptions we have about asymmetrical influence and the struggle between the weak and the strong. Is it possible some circumstances and conditions that are universally perceived as disadvantages could in some cases turn out to be advantages after all? In a series of compelling chapters Gladwell explores this premise with stories ranging from the Troubles of Northern Ireland to cancer research, from education to civil rights. If you have a Goliath in your path you need to learn to think and act more like David. This book will show you how.

Note: The introduction to the book retells the biblical story of David and Goliath. In doing so Gladwell suggests the reason Goliath was so large may be due to a medical condition known as acromegaly, which is the result of a tumor on the pituitary gland. If so, in addition to being large, it is also likely his eyesight was poor and his overall dexterity less than normal.

Goliath’s only hope in fighting David would have been close quarter hand-to-hand combat, which was common in ancient warfare as an alternate way for armies to settle disputes. David defied the conventional and attacked with a sling. The sling was a very strategic and deadly weapon of warfare and actually gave David an advantage over Goliath, who expected hand-to-hand combat.

Gladwell has said repeatedly in speeches, question and answer sessions, as well as print interviews, that David’s greatest asset was a “heart full of faith.”

 Best chapter

Part One – The Advantages of Disadvantages (and the Disadvantages of Advantages)

Chapter 1: Vivek Ranandive

Vivek Ranadive agreed to coach his daughter’s basketball team in spite of the fact as an immigrant from India he had never played the sport. He enlisted the help of others, including former professional football player Roger Craig, and his daughter Rometra, who had played basketball in college.

But it was Vivek’s lack of knowledge about basketball that gave the team the strategic advantage that took them to National Junior Basketball championships in the seventh-and-eighth grade division. As an outsider, once he understood the rule, he could not understand why teams did not defend the other team from the moment they brought the ball in after a basket all the way down the court. This is typically described as a full-court press.

Vivek knew his team was not as talented as others and could not compete in a traditional way. So they guarded their opponents closely trying to prevent them from inbounding the ball within the allotted five seconds. If the team was successful inbounding the ball, they used a swarming pressure defense to try to prevent the other team from crossing the half court line with the ball in the allotted ten seconds.

Speaking of this unusual defensive strategy, Rometra Craig said, “What that defense did for us is that we could hide our weaknesses. We could hide the fact that we didn’t have good outside shooters. We could hide the fact that we didn’t have the tallest lineup. Because as long as we played hard on defense, we were getting steals and getting easy layups.” Kindle location 259

“You would think looking at his girls, that their complete inability to pass and dribble and shoot was their greatest disadvantage. But it wasn’t, was it? It was what made their winning strategy possible.” Kindle location 334

Best quotes

Note: Like other Gladwell books this is a collection of stories, woven together to make a point. But the stories do not produce the same kind of quotable statements that stand alone without the context of the story. But here are a few of our favorites:

“Through these stories, I want to explore two ideas. The first is that much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty. And second, that we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.” Kindle location 43

“Suppose you were to total up all the wars over the past two hundred years that occurred between very large and very small countries. Let’s say that one side has to be at least ten times larger in population and armed might than the other. How often do you think the bigger side wins? Most of us, I think, would put that number at close to 100 percent. A tenfold difference is a lot. But the actual answer may surprise you. When the political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft did the calculation a few years ago, what he came up with was 71.5 percent. Just under a third of the time, the weaker country wins.” Kindle location 184

“There is a set of advantages that have to do with material resources, and there is a set that have to do with the absence of material resources—and the reason underdogs win as often as they do is that the latter is sometimes every bit the equal of the former.” Kindle location 225

“We spend a lot of time thinking about the ways that prestige and resources and belonging to elite institutions make us better off. We don’t spend enough time thinking about the ways in which those kinds of material advantages limit our options.” Kindle location 359

“There is an important principle that guides our thinking about the relationship between parenting and money—and that principle is that more is not always better.” Kindle location 485

“Wealth contains the seeds of its own destruction.” Kindle location 506

“How you feel about your abilities—your academic “self-concept”—in the context of your classroom shapes your willingness to tackle challenges and finish difficult tasks. It’s a crucial element in your motivation and confidence.” Kindle location 839

“As the playwright George Bernard Shaw once put it: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Kindle location 1282

“We are all of us not merely liable to fear, we are also prone to being afraid of being afraid.” Kindle location 1631

“When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters—first and foremost—how they behave. This is called the “principle of legitimacy,” and legitimacy is based on three things. First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice—that if they speak up, they will be heard. Second, the law has to be predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today. And third, the authority has to be fair. It can’t treat one group differently from another.” Kindle location 2336

“…power has an important limitation. It has to be seen as legitimate, or else its use has the opposite of its intended effect.” Kindle location 2683

“The excessive use of force creates legitimacy problems, and force without legitimacy leads to defiance, not submission.” Kindle location 3093

Best illustration

Note: In one sense, every chapter is an illustration Gladwell uses to reinforce the central premise of the book.

“Some religious movements have as their heroes great warriors or prophets. The Mennonites have Dirk Willems, who was arrested for his religious beliefs in the sixteenth century and held in a prison tower. With the aid of a rope made of knotted rags, he let himself down from the window and escaped across the castle’s ice-covered moat. A guard gave chase. Willems made it safely to the other side. The guard did not, falling through the ice into the freezing water, and Willems stopped, went back, and pulled his pursuer to safety. For his act of compassion, he was taken back to prison, tortured, and then burned slowly at the stake as he repeated ‘Oh, my Lord, my God’ seventy times over.” Kindle location 2857

File under: commitment, compassion

 Best idea

Gladwell makes a compelling argument that what you perceive to be your disadvantages may actually turn out to give you an advantage. “What the Israelites saw, from high on the ridge, was an intimidating giant. In reality, the very thing that gave the giant his size was also the source of his greatest weakness. There is an important lesson in that for battles with all kinds of giants. The powerful and the strong are not always what they seem.” Kindle location 143

 Best take away

In what area are you (your church or organization) an underdog? How might the factors that make you an underdog also give you an advantage? Examine the “Goliaths” you are facing. What makes them so strong and intimidating? How might these strengths actually make them more vulnerable?


Being an outsider can give you a distinct advantage in that you are more likely to question the prevailing wisdom and see what others don’t see. The other side of the equation is being an insider, which can limit your vision with blind spots that prevent you from seeing the next big idea. Take a few moments (even better with your team) to make a list of the most common assumptions (about methods and strategy) that are widely accepted by insiders to your organization (and churches or organizations like yours). What would an outsider see? Flip these assumptions on their head. What would happen if the opposite was true?

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