David and Goliath Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (2013, Little, Brown and Company)

Review :

This guy writes so well. He draws you in with beautifully crafted stories. Murnane says in one of his books that he regretted having told people that some of his books were works of fiction and some essays. I really believe that creativity is essential for both these writing tasks, and that because real art prefers to hide, there is a good argument to be had in believing that more creativity is asked for in the writing of non-fiction than in fiction.

Not that this guy really hides his artifice. His stories are painstakingly structured and his punches are delivered with such precision that it is hard not to want to applaud even as they slam into the side of your face.

And I love that he leads me down the garden path. I wonder how many people will be caught in the depths of their prejudices only to find the tables being turned. It would be hard to make a more compelling argument, for instance, in favour of the Californian 'three strikes and your in' laws than he makes here or to find a way to so convincingly refute this emotional, logical and compelling argument almost immediately after.

This book was infinitely confronting for me. If I was paranoid then I would have to assume Gladwell had gone out of his way to find every topic I find almost unbearable to think about - that somehow he had written this book as part of a bizarre vendetta against me. I've explained my problems with dyslexia before - https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... - so want go through that again other than to say that I found this part of the book really hard going. I wouldn't wish dyslexia on my worst enemy - shame and humiliation are not toys to be played with. As you can also see in that review, I'm from Belfast and left just before the Troubles started. That Gladwell discusses the internment here was and is and will always be like an open wound for me - my childhood consisted of hearing stories of rubber bullets fired into crowds of protestors and spent singing songs about armoured cars and tanks and guns that came to take away our sons, of collective punishments meted out by unfeeling monsters and of whole populations being guilty because they were Irish. Parts of this book held a mirror up to all of the things that made me feel different and odd and out of place in my childhood, all of the things that held me apart, and those things never really leave you, even if you haven't thought about them for years.

And if you want to make me full of an unquenchable fury, then talk of collaborators with the Nazis turning in Jews so they can to be transported to the death camps. Or of people refusing to buy clothes because a black person may have touched them. Or of black children being arrested and 'checked for venereal disease' as a means of humiliating them for asking for justice, for having to ask for what ought to have been theirs' by birth right.

And the worst of my nightmares are here too. I am a father of two daughters. This book was written to torture people like me. Torture us by showing our nightmares made real, lived out in the lives of people we would empathise with, but Gladwell forces from us more than merely our empathy, he places us in their shoes - he has us holding the hands of our own daughters as they lay dying or has us wait months to learn of their slow death by torture. I let very few writers take me to those places.

This book has opened and scattered salt across virtually every wound and every scar, real and imagined, of which my life is constituted. All the same, read it. This isn't a pleasant read by any stretch of the imagination, this isn't something which is fun - but you'll remember this book and it will make you think and it will make you feel - and there's not much else to ask from books.


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