Malcolm Gladwell, host of the podcast Revisionist History and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Outliers, offers a powerful examination of our interactions with strangers, and why they often go wrong—now with a new afterword by the author.A Best Book of the Year: The Financial Times, Bloomberg, Chicago Tribune, and Detroit Free PressHow did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Why are campus sexual assaults on the rise? Do television sitcoms teach us something about the way we relate to one another that isn’t true? Talking to Strangers is a challenging and controversial excursion through history, psychology, and scandals taken straight from the news. In it, Malcolm Gladwell revisits the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the suicide of Sylvia Plath, and the death of Sandra Bland—throwing our understanding of these and other stories into doubt. Something is very wrong, Gladwell argues, with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know, and the resulting conflict and misunderstanding have a profound effect on our lives and our world. Now, with Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell brings us a gripping guidebook for troubled times.
September 28, 2021
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“Talking to Strangers is a must-read… I love this book… Reading it will actually change not just how you see strangers, but how you look at yourself, the news—the world… Reading this book changed me.”―Oprah Winfrey, O, The Oprah Magazine”Powerful advice on truly getting to know others…Gladwell brilliantly argues that we should stop assuming, realize no one’s transparent and understand that behavior is tied to unseen circumstances.”―People, Book of the Week”Gladwell has again delivered a compelling, conversation-starting read…At a time when the world feels intractably polarized, a book examining the varying ways we misinterpret or fail to communicate with one another could not feel more necessary…With a mix of reporting, research and a deft narrative hand, Gladwell illuminates these examples with the page-turning urgency of a paperback thriller.”―Chris Barton, Los Angeles Times”Mr. Gladwell’s towering success rests on the moment when the skeptic starts to think that maybe we’re wrong about everything and maybe, just maybe, this Gladwell guy is onto something…Talking to Strangers is weightier than his previous titles.”―Amy Chozick, New York Times”Gladwell uses compelling real-world examples to show the how and why behind our interactions with folks we’re trying to understand.”―Rhett Power, Forbes”Gladwell’s case studies are thrilling…Chock-full of gripping anecdotes from the recent and forgotten past. He uses these riveting stories to offer up bite-size observations about how we engage with strangers.”―Maggie Taft, Booklist”Another Gladwell tour de force…intellectually stimulating…Readers expecting another everything-you-think-you-know-is-wrong page-turner will not be disappointed.”―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)”Both fascinating and topical…A thoughtful treatise…Gladwell writes in his signature colorful, fluid, and accessible prose.”―Publishers Weekly”Gladwell interviews brilliant people, generates powerful insights, writes like an angel, and has earned a massive and admiring audience. He has a keen eye and a witty flair and he’s one of the best observationalists of a generation. Gladwell is a big-picture thinker who helps us make sense of the human condition.”―Bob Brisco, WebMD Magazine”As always, with his narrative gift and eye for the telling detail, Gladwell peppers his work with unforgettable facts… He has immense gifts–a probing, original, questioning mind, an ability to dig up information others haven’t considered and tie it to a broader point. He has a narrative skill nonpareil.”―Stephen Galloway, Hollywood Reporter”Engaging…Mr. Gladwell [presents] a mountain of quirky anecdotes and interesting research about our blunders with strangers, and why we make them…It’s fascinating to peek at these incidents through Mr. Gladwell’s psychological lens.”―Leigh Anne Focareta, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette”Inspiring and motivating…Gladwell is a wunderkind and a saint…He takes on racial division, incompatible perspectives, and emotional dissonance without ever sounding preaching or proud. The stories make you think.”―John Brandon, Daily Beast”Superb writing. Masterful structure.”―Pilita Clark, Financial Times (UK) About the Author Malcom Gladwell is the author of seven New York Times bestsellers: The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, David and Goliath, Talking to Strangers, and The Bomber Mafia. He is also the cofounder of Pushkin Industries, an audiobook and podcast production company. He was born in England, grew up in rural Ontario, and now lives in New York. <div id="
It’s odd to see some of the reviews. I waited until I actually finished the book before adding some thoughts here.If you are new to Gladwell, you will greatly enjoy “Talking to Strangers”… as it is a must read for anybody who needs to make snap judgements about people’s character and behavior.Of course, if you are a fan of Gladwell, you will of course enjoy it, especially if you hear it on Audible. Gladwell produces the Audible version as if it was an extended episode of his “Revisionist History” Podcast. The music and all the extra interviews from actual people, really brings the book to life.Heck… if you don’t like it, return it… though if you start, you will probably keep it.Enjoy!
Malcolm Gladwell is a gifted writer who engages our minds and emotions in his works of non-fiction. In “Talking to Strangers,” he tells us true stories that, at first, seem to be unrelated. A police stop ends in tragedy; Neville Chamberlain and other political figures famously misconstrued Hitler’s bellicose intentions; experienced judges grant bail to defendants who, they realize too late, should have remained in jail; the sociopath, Bernie Madoff, conducted a fraudulent investment scheme for years, deceiving many individuals who thought that he was a genius at making money; Amanda Knox served prison time for a murder that she did not commit.Studies show that most of us who encounter apparently benevolent individuals are predisposed to believe that they are not putting on an act. Conversely, when we meet a man or woman who behaves weirdly or inappropriately, we are likely to jump to negative conclusions about him or her, even when there is little hard evidence to support our assumptions. The author suggests that many of us have an inflated opinion of our ability to size up people. Research suggests that we are not as objective as we would like to believe, and are therefore prone to misinterpret comments, intonations, facial expressions, and gestures. Moreover, we do not always realize that people whose backgrounds differ from ours may communicate in unfamiliar ways.Gladwell asks: How did double-agents who telegraphed their guilt get away with their treasonous behavior for so long? Why didn’t everyone recognize Madoff for what he is—a ruthless swindler? Which of Amanda Knox’s personality traits, remarks, and deeds convinced Italian authorities that she killed her roommate? These compelling examples raise intriguing questions about why we sometimes reach erroneous conclusions when we assess the truthfulness of our fellow human beings. it should be noted that a few chapters in this book—such as the essays on suicide, young adults who drink so heavily that they black out, and the efforts of police to cut down on crime—are thought-provoking but oversimplified and not particularly relevant to Gladwell’s central premise. Still, this work of non-fiction is an entertaining and enlightening wake-up call. We should be cautious when we decide who our friends are as opposed to who is likely to stab us in the back. Too often we are dead wrong.
Let me start with what Malcolm Gladwell believes happened in the Sandra Bland case. During the 1970s, there was an experiment conducted in Kansas City, Missouri, which found that increased police patrols had no effect on crime. During the 1990s, a similar experiment, again conducted in Kansas City, instead targeted extra police patrols in very specific high-crime areas – and by very specific I mean city blocks, not streets, blocks. That experiment was incredibly effective and demonstrated that stopping individuals for very minor traffic infractions led to an increase in arrests, gun seizures, drug seizures, and, most importantly, crime.Law enforcement agencies around the country took notice; sadly, they walked away with the wrong lesson. The officer who stopped Sandra Bland that fateful day had been trained to stop potentially suspicious individuals for very little reason. He was further trained to look for evidence of guilt rather than assuming anyone was just going about their business. Why? Because law enforcement agencies extrapolated and thought that what worked well in a very specific high-crime area would also work everywhere else. That just wasn’t the case. It led to an overly suspicious police force and, of course, the general populace growing increasing wary of encountering police. It also unfortunately disproportionately impacted African Americans and ultimately led to the Black Lives Matter movement.I am a HUGE fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s work. He singlehandedly taught me to appreciate nonfiction. His books are both informative and entertaining, educational but really enjoyable to read. Outliers in particular has stuck with me. I also enjoyed his other books, not counting What the Dog Saw, which was a bit different from the others.In any case, I have been looking forward to Talking to Strangers since I first heard of its upcoming release. It does not disappoint. I have a master’s degree in anthropology, so Gladwell’s own description of Talking to Strangers spoke to me immediately. After listing high-profile examples including Sandra Bland, Brock Turner, and Amanda Knox, Gladwell says: “In all of these cases, the parties involved relied on a set of strategies to translate one another’s words and intentions. And in each case, something went very wrong. In Talking to Strangers, I want to understand those strategies—analyze them, critique them, figure out where they came from, find out how to fix them.”Largely using high-profile cases with which readers will be familiar, Malcolm Gladwell wants to teach us how to communicate better with those who are different. He presents us with two puzzles:First, why can’t we tell when the stranger is front of us is lying to our face? (ANSWER: Because we default to truth. Society could not function otherwise. There don’t just need to be red flags for us to recognize deception – there need to be an overwhelming number of them.)Second, how is it that meeting a stranger can sometimes make us worse at making sense of that person than not meeting them? (ANSWER: Because we assume transparency, meaning we assume we can read their intentions on their faces and through their actions. It turns out, we can’t. We’re really bad at it.)“We have people struggling with their first impressions of a stranger. We have people struggling when they have months to understand a stranger. We have people struggling when they meet with someone only once, and people struggling when they return to the stranger again and again. They struggle with assessing a stranger’s honesty. They struggle with a stranger’s character. They struggle with a stranger’s intent.“It’s a mess.”It is this mess which Malcolm Gladwell hopes to make more comprehensible.As always, well written and highly readable. But I am dissatisfied with the conclusion. How do we best talk to strangers? “What is required of us is restraint and humility.” Sure. We need to acknowledge that strangers are complex and that we have no clue whether they are telling the truth or lying and that we certainly can not read their intentions from their facial expressions or actions. That’s the humility part. The restraint part is recognizing all of that and not assuming we have a clue. But what Gladwell fails to do is actually give us a template of how to talk to strangers.Talking to people is confusing; the older I get, the more I recognize that. I have long since gotten that defaulting to truth can be problematic but assuming that everyone else is lying is worse. I don’t have to look any further than neurodiversity to grasp that someone who fidgets or avoids eye contact may not be guilty of anything other than a diagnosis that is unknown to me. While this book was enlightening and informative on a large scale, on the minor scale that is my life, it did not teach me anything I did not already know in my quest to talk to strangers – and that is disappointing. I remain as bewildered as always by the other. And, I suppose, recognizing that already puts me ahead of the game.EDIT: I have continued mulling over this book, and one thing puzzles me. Gladwell says repeatedly in the first half of the book that the correct course of action is to assume others are telling the truth because lies are rare. But liars are not rare! As he demonstrated with the quiz experiment, when given the opportunity 30% of people cheated – and then lied about it! I suppose you could assume lies are rare if you also assume that most liars don’t lie all the time. I prefer the maxim “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Sorry, but I did not like this book. The best thing I can say is that it is well-written, very fluent and conversational as one would expect from a top New Yorker writer. I have never read anything else by Malcolm Gladwell as far as I know, but I was curious and even a bit excited to try this out because he is so well known for influential books such as The Tipping Point.However, I’m afraid this book has nothing to say. It is a compendium of interesting crime cases and celebrated moments from history and popular culture, ranging from Hitler to Friends to 9/11 and a whole load of controversial court cases, with some examination of suicide as a diversion. For the first half of it – and it’s a very quick read, so do give it a try if you are inclined to doubt my criticism – I just found myself wondering: “where is he going with this? What is the thesis? What is his point?”Ostensibly the book is about whether or not we can judge strangers. I think. But many of the examples that he draws on have no apparent lesson. Many of them are nice little vignettes which show how broad-ranging the author’s mind is, and would make good “dinner party anecdotes” – but rather in a mansplaining vein, where you tell someone that what they think about Chamberlain and Hitler is so wrong because there’s so much more to it… But actually they’re right.There are digressions via Cuban spies, Bernie Madoff, Jerry Sandusky and Amanda Knox. All nicely told. But what does the book actually tell us? Sorry Mr Gladwell. I got nothing.
**CONTAINS SPOILERS**This is a thought-provoking book on the premise that the majority of people are unable to tell whether a stranger is trustworthy.The author starts and ends with the true, tragic case of 28 year-old African American Sandra Bland, who in 2015 was pulled over by a traffic cop in Texas, arrested, and committed suicide in her jail cell three days later.Chapters detail famous cases of the consequences of trusting – Montezuma and Cortes, Chamberlain and Hitler, spies undetected for years in high places. I couldn’t see the relevance of all the cases, for example the drunken rape case, interrogation methods and the Amanda Knox trials. A better example might have been the Lindy Chamberlain dingo case, to demonstrate how people mistrust innocent people whose body language does not match our expectations.Gladwell asks “why can’t we tell when the stranger in front of us is lying?” He suggests that those recruiting, or judges setting bail, make better choices based on what they hear or read, rather than on who they are looking at. He also suggests that to keep society harmonious, we default to a position of trust.We all know that those younger, prettier, taller, better dressed and educated – and in some cases whiter – have an advantage in life. I could add examples to the author’s, our former children’s laureate Malorie Blackman who was singled out in a first class carriage for a ticket check, the way the family of Stephen Lawrence were treated by the police.I was still struggling to keep up and follow the train of thought at the chapter on coupling, the theory that, for example, if someone wants to commit suicide and at the perfect and ideal time the perfect and ideal method presents itself they will go ahead, otherwise they might not carry out the act.I have read the transcript of the exchange between the cop and Sandra Bland and also watched a video of the exchange. The cop, who was rightly subsequently sacked, quickly became aggressive. But so did Bland – even the fact she lit a cigarette early in the exchange shocked me. These were two people with supressed anger and aggression, resentment, and preconceived judgements on both sides that escalated into disaster.It turns out that the tragic Bland, who had a promising life ahead of her, had a troubled past. Certainly she should never have been pulled over, during an aggressive and unnecessary “stop and search” programme.I also struggle to place the incident in the context of life in America, living as I do in England. It seems a uniquely American encounter to me. I cannot imagine anyone lighting a cigarette when pulled over by the police unless wishing for further antagonism, and British cops do not – yet – carry guns. But we currently have the situation here where anyone criticizing a certain new royal princess for acting like a prima donna film star flashing her cash is called “racist” when please, look at her – olive skin and sleek straight hair. It’s nothing to do with her background – her sister in law got equal flack for her mother’s profession. It’s about behaviours and we need to carefully separate the two, and challenge our own and others preconceptions.Malorie Blackman politely challenged the ticket inspector: “Aren’t you going to check anyone else’s ticket?”. The family of Stephen Lawrence gained nationwide respect for their quiet dignity in their fight for justice. Sandra Bland was treated appallingly, humiliated and isolated, and she didn’t have the resources internal or external to overcome that treatment, spending her last days sobbing alone in her cell. A dreadful, damning example of policing gone awry. Perhaps she suspected she never would have found redress after release. This book, I hope, will in some way make up for that and I salute the author for it.
Well-written, an easy read. Lots of interesting stories?But, and it is a big but …What is the point of the book? There don’t seen to be any startling insights. The vignettes are over-used and repetitive. There’s almost nothing on solutions. In conclusion, a shallow second-rate book. Pity …
Suppose all you wanted to say was “We should (also) accept the limits of our ability to decipher strangers”, but you don’t have enough material to project it as a great idea, and you have to write a complete book about it, what would you do?1. You will research a lot of unrelated anecdotes and try to piece them together. Even if the association of a particular anecdote, with your book’s central idea, is at best tenuous, still you would try to twist it into the story.2. You will write it brilliantly. You will give away a sliver of a story here and another after a few pages and return to the story after a few chapters, trying to rise as many imaginary hairs as possible.3. Try putting the title of the book at weird places. It has to be reminded to the readers once in a while that the title has something to do with the book, and that the interesting unrelated incidents you are narrating are in fact, justifiably included.4. Of course, cash in your name, if it is popular enough. Spend some of the goodwill you generated previously by writing valuable books.In summary, you try too hard. Malcolm Gladwell is guilty of the same crime.
Somehow I was expecting rather more from this celebrated author. I am about halfway through and have found it to be a series of stories which make the same basic point. There is nothing intriguing to get your teeth into and have found the book shallow and very disappointing. Two stars is probably generous!
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