Interview: Malcolm Gladwell on his return to faith while writing “David and Goliath”

How writing a book on the world’s most popular Bible story brought America’s most beloved non-fiction writer back into the fold.

I was so incredibly struck in writing these stories by the incredible power faith had in people’s lives, it has made a profound impact on me in my belief.

by Sarah Pulliam Bailey  | via Religion News Service

Malcolm Gladwell speaks at PopTech! 2008 conference. Photo courtesy Kris Krüg via Wikimedia Commons

Malcolm Gladwell speaks at PopTech! 2008 conference. Photo by Kris Krüg [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Author Malcolm Gladwell may not be known for writing on religion. His New York Times best-selling books “The Tipping Point,” “Outliers,” “Blink” and “What the Dog Saw” deal with the unexpected twists in social science research. But his newest book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants,” also includes underlying faith-related themes, and not just in the title. Gladwell said that while researching the book, he began rediscovering his own faith after having drifted away. Here, he speaks with RNS about his Mennonite family, how Jesus perfectly illustrates the point in his new book and how Gladwell’s return to faith changed the way he wrote the book. The interview was edited for length and clarity.

Q: You use the biblical story of David and Goliath in the title and the setup to your book. Do you think we’ve been retelling the story poorly?

A: I think there has been an overemphasis of the idea that David’s victory was improbable. When you look closer to that story and you understand the full historical context, you see it from a different perspective. Here was a guy who brilliantly changed the rules of combat. He was equipped with a sling that was routinely used by armies to defeat the sort that Goliath was. David was very skilled at using the weapon and he was filled with the spirit of the Lord. Put those things together, why is he an underdog? He’s smarter than his opponent, better armed and he had this extraordinary force in his heart. When you understand that perspective, you understand that sometimes our instinct about where power comes from is wrong.

Q: What are some other examples of faith influencing power?

A: The final two chapters of the book also deal with faith: one about a woman who forgives her daughter’s murderer and one about the Huguenots in France who defy the Nazis in World War II. In both cases, people were able to do extraordinary things because they were armed with faith. They were able to perform acts of courage because they came from godly traditions. In both cases, there are people who had been through enormous adversity and had survived — more than survived, thrived.

Q: Is it true you grew up in an evangelical home?

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