October 27th, 2013
12:15 AM ET

Gladwell: Why we've got David and Goliath wrong

Fareed speaks with Malcolm Gladwell, longtime ‘New Yorker’ staff writer and best-selling author of ‘The Tipping Point’ and ‘Outliers’ about why we have it wrong about one of the bible’s most famous stories. Watch the full interview this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

David and Goliath. Of course, one of the most famous stories in the world. But you retell it. Explain why you thought it was important to retell. What is the real story of David and Goliath?

Well, I think we have exaggerated the extent to which David is an underdog in that situation. And I think that feeds into a very dangerous line of thinking, which suggests the only way that the weak can ever triumph is by some improbable miracle.

In fact, and this an insanely fun thing to do when I was doing my book, if you talk to endocrinologists, the rabbis, Israeli Defense Force people – I mean anyone who's thought about the David and Goliath story – they will tell you, first of all, that the sling that David has in his hand is not a child's toy. It’s one of the most devastating weapons in ancient warfare.

David had superior technology. I mean, once he decided to break the rules, he's the guy in charge. And then there's Goliath. There's all of these hints in the biblical story in Samuel that Goliath is not what he appears to be.

In fact, this is where the rabbis come in – the rabbis have been pointing this out for years. He didn't sound like a big terrifying warrior. He is led down onto the valley floor by an attendant. He moves really slowly. It takes him forever to figure out that David is not intending to fight him in a sword fight. And he says these strange things, as if he's not perceiving the situation properly.

And all of these endocrinologists have solved the puzzle by saying, look, he sounds like a guy with acromegaly, which is a tumor on your pituitary gland that causes overproduction of human growth hormone, which is why he's so big, but also often has a side effect of constricting your optic nerves. Goliath can't see. He's got restricted vision.

So here you have a kid with superior technology up against a lumbering giant who can see this far in front of his face. That's not underdog versus favorite, that's something very different. And I love the reconfiguration of advantage that gives us.

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Topics: GPS Show

soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. JAL

    Talk about Abraham.

    October 27, 2013 at 6:45 am |
    • Michael Allen

      What a silly book based on total ignorance. The Bible is God's Book written by God's people , for God's people , inspired by GOD. The story of David depicts a young boy chosen by GOD to defeat a mighty adversary based on the Faith of the young boy in his God and the promise of GOD that victory would be his. The silly Gladwell then reduces this wonderfull story to a new age psycho babble comic book . In Gladwells fantasy comic, the young goat herder boy becomes a nimble athletic super warrior , a toy sling used to hunt tiny birds becomes a hellfire guided missile. And the giant powerfull Goliath who had slain countless warriors before , is now reduced to a clumsy , mentally deficient helpless oaf. Oh well. If there are people stupid enough to pay for this idiot waste of ink and paper then Gladwell might jut as well keep turning out this trash. Whats next Malcolm ? How about this . The Romans did not mean to kill Jesus Christ but were just trying to lift him up so the crowd could see him better. The whole crucification was just a silly accident. That should sell a few million copies. ... not your best segment Fareed.

      October 27, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        Although Malcolm Gladwell has demystified David legendary strength, there are still many, who still believe in myths.

        November 1, 2013 at 9:00 am |
    • JAL

      I like the stories of Abraham, but stories of honor always have that effect on people. Self-sacrifice through creating inclusive strategies is what Abraham achieved and why many were proud to operate under his authority. We can talk about the rise of group labor/social awareness, we can talk about the rise of central banking/political frameworks, or even the new rise of advance technology, but Abraham is the true patriarch. Divided we fall.

      October 28, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
  2. Charlie Euchner

    Take a look at Malcolm Gladwell’s rejection letter (http://bit.ly/1bgFwXm)

    October 27, 2013 at 7:44 am |
    • glauber

      Why not just quote it, rather than invite people to click a potentially harmful link?

      November 10, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  3. ✠RZ✠

    David and Goliath eh, well, let me tell ya. Regardless of how you debunk it, the story still depicts humanity as a lot of blatant warmongering idiots. The real miracle would have been for David and Goliath to put down their sticks and stones and start working cooperatively on building a big spaceship to get them out of their puny prized sandbox and out into space where God has already made more sandboxes than there are people on the entire planet. But nooooohhhhhh, the lesson passed onto to posterity was to just keep everyone warmongering and right to this very day. So needless to say, God has just about had enough of this nonsense, and will no doubt need to teach humanity a little lesson with a demonstration of how he can turn a whole lot of sand into glass with just a teeny tiny eeny weeny itsy bitsy pebble of his own. And exactly where that might be no one yet knows. But I'm sure history will remember it as the "chosen land".

    How's that for bible stories?!?

    October 27, 2013 at 8:04 am |
  4. falconflight

    One can only laugh through the sneer at CNN as a competing MSNBC rank Leftist agitprop operation. I viewed a couple of stories on the GPS from a Leftist World and to listen to the RingMaster of lies about the without a doubt man man climate destruction and just marvel how a generation of vacuous trolls lap this bilge like honey.

    October 27, 2013 at 11:11 am |
  5. rightospeak

    CNN "wise man" removed my comments again after I described the intellectual nonsense.

    October 27, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  6. rightospeak

    They will not allow me to make appropriate comment – Thought Police keeps removing my comments, so I will call the conversation I saw on GPS a waste of my time to put it mildly.

    October 27, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  7. rightospeak

    There is media monopoly in the US and manipulation of comments to make Americans into zombies. The big bank cartels own CNN. To get democracy in the US the media monopoly needs to be broken up.

    October 27, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
  8. Jim Doucette

    At the end of todays show, there was a book mentioned about China. Who was the author and what was the name of the book?

    Enjoy the show.


    October 27, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
  9. Lyndon ward

    Malcolm Gladwell has it all wrong. David was the definite underdog in the conflict. Saul the king told David, " Thou art no able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth" (I Samuel 17:33). Goliath was not a blind, lumbering, dumb youth like "Blaster" from the movie Thunderdome; he was a skilled veteran warrior that had seen many battles. I think Malcolm Gladwell should perform more research before getting on national TV and reciting the Scriptures inaccurately.

    October 27, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
  10. Mohamed A koroma

    Can you please post in my email the question and its answers on the GPS of today, 10/27/ 2013

    October 27, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  11. Patricia

    Gladwell's reinterpretation of David vs. Goliath is factually incorrect. Goliath and his fourth brothers (hence five stones) all suffered from giantism which ran through the offspring of Cain). The Philistines put their faith in the giant because they found success with that method both territorially and economically. The Philistines kept control of their metal working monopoly by military dominance. The Philistines did not put their future in the hands of a blind dummy.
    It's true that if a person has confidence that he will be successful, their willingness to take a chance, to try harder, to accept some rejection as temporary are enhanced. It is hard to accept a challenge for success without hope.. Too bad the administrations of higher learning don't have a way to help students gain confidence in themselves. As to Fareed Zakarias' comments on Calvinsim, delayed gratification is not limited to Calvinism. All followers of Jehovah/YHWH know that sowing into the future, for their children, brings lasting prosperity. What ethnicity has won more Nobel prizes than any other? People of Jewish descent. Jews have been a blessing to humanity. Compare the current prosperity of Israel to their neighbors. Jews treat females with respect, which enhances their culture and economy. Muslim women want the same freedom given in the rest of the world for their children, not how they grew up. Protestantism and Roman Catholicism has done the same for humanity. Roman Catholic missionaries traveled the world with medical knowledge, literacy and the blood atonement of Jesus, not of humans sacrificed to Dagon and other idols. NGOs today, bringing the same medical knowledge and same help to the poor and afflicted are mostly faith based. Faith gives a world view as well as a family view. Faith lays a foundation for the future. David had faith. Neither Saul nor Goliath had faith.

    October 27, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
  12. Mac

    The sling in David's hand was demonstrably a tested weapon in the military in that time which Malcolm asserts correctly. Notwithstanding, Goliath was "a champion of war from his youth" and that is why Israel dreaded him. He also saw that David was going to use "sticks" instead of a regular amour. On this Malcolm is wrong.David trusted that by his God, he could slay the giant with that "weapon". It was faith because in Saul's army there were obviously many mature warriors who could have used that sling even better! David was not part of the Army yet but a shepherd boy!

    October 27, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
  13. O Joe

    Glawel's presentation of David and Goliath story is very misleading. Gladwell obviously is navigating into a subject that he's not qualify or competent to handle.
    The bible is an inspired word of God. Therefore all biblical stories must be seen in that light. Tiring to bring human and fleshly reasons into interpreting the bible is misleading and heretical.
    What this man has done in his so call book is to try and take God out of the story. David did not prevail over Goliath because he has superior weapon as claimed by Gladwell, but because David trusted in his God. This is the central and key point in the David and Goliath's story. To try and cast shadow over the most important aspect of the story makes nonsense of Mr Glawell's book
    I wonder whether Gadwell ever read the story himself from the bible or he just based his misleading book on hearsay. If he did, he would have found out that David said to Goliath the following quote "Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield:but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. 46 This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.""
    Therefore, let it be clear to all the readers of Mr Gladwell's book, that what killed Goliath was not David's weapon, but his faith in his God who's able to do all things.

    October 28, 2013 at 8:37 am |
  14. Sgoldblume

    Gladwell is just another tribesman getting endorsed by the ethnic gang and mindless suck-ups that abandoned critical thinking.

    This is exactly the type of talking head the elite want. Feinstein and Durbin are pushing for legislation that would only allow people with their point of view to be heard.


    Put Gladwell on this list of other “greats” . Al Goldstein, Benjamin Emanuel,Phil Spector ,Sigmund Freud, Bernie" Madoff, Leon Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronshtein), Ben Shalom Bernanke, Harvey Milk, Lenin, Reuben Sturman, Marx, Ron Jeremy,

    Just for starters, six corporations own 96% of the world media.



    They decide who is relevant, what you should think, what your daughter should wear who she should date, how you should think or be socially sodomized. The American people know more about American idol than the group of devils working overtime behind the scenes to control the world.

    October 28, 2013 at 9:41 am |
    • ✠ RZ ✠

      @ Sgoldblume- Will look forward to hear more of your insights I'm sure.. As for Galdwell... Who??

      October 28, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
  15. Maria

    Because you are NOT smart enough! Enough is enough. You need to decide: does USA want to be a winner or a loser. The NATO alliance needs winning leaders, not orientationless Washington DC.

    October 28, 2013 at 11:10 am |
  16. Randall

    Gladwell's analysis is pathetic.
    Whether you consider the Bible to be inspired or not, certain things are obvious from a plain reading of the text:
    1. David volunteered when the experienced warriors were all afraid. Goliath had to be fearsome by the standards of the time, otherwise his presence would not have influenced morale on both sides, and his death would not have decided the outcome of the battle that followed.
    2. David was known to be young and small, otherwise his brothers and Saul would not have tried to discourage him. When Samuel came to anoint him, his own father assumed he must want one of the older brothers.
    3. David was clearly fearless, and proved to be a ferocious warrior and great leader, but that all happened after the defeat of Goliath. People underestimated him because of youth and size, but it still took great nerve to face a better equipped veteran warrior that everyone else feared.
    4. Gladwell has clearly never used a sling. The only strength of a sling is that it has a higher initial and final velocity, and greater range, than most primitive ballistic weapons, except for the bow. It is also cheap and easy to make. However, it has no penetrating power – it is useless if it strikes even minimal armor – and is less lethal than anything pointy, i.e., arrow, spear or javelin against armored or exposed body parts.
    5. Because of the circular path of the stone prior to release, it is less accurate in principle and far harder to use effectively than any bow, javelin, spear (by hand or throwing stick), blowpipe, or hand-thrown knives, rocks, or hammers. I have tried all of these. Bows, blowpipes, and hand throwing are relatively easy for a beginner The sling would be my last choice, and I would need a large supply of rocks, because it takes great skill to hit anything, even at close range.
    To me, the "miracle" of David vs. Goliath is that the rock struck Goliath in the upper part of his face, the only place it was likely to disable even a big, slow, stupid half-blind warrior in full armor. Only a blowpipe or bow offers that kind of precision in the hands of a skilled user. How many IDF soldiers have been killed by Palestinian slings?
    If you want to self-promote by rewriting history, you need a more plausible narrative.

    October 29, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
  17. Abobakar Ibrahim

    "How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." 1 kings 18:21

    October 30, 2013 at 5:36 am |
  18. Abobakar Ibrahim

    Amongst the above comments, one by @O Joe makes the most sense to me.

    October 30, 2013 at 5:45 am |
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