Talking to Strangers: Book summary and reviews of Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Talking to Strangers

What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know

by Malcolm Gladwell

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell X
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
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Book Summary

Malcolm Gladwell, host of the podcast Revisionist History and #1 bestselling author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, David and Goliath, and What the Dog Saw, offers a powerful examination of our interactions with strangers--and why they often go wrong.

How 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 each other that isn't true?

Talking to Strangers is a classically Gladwellian intellectual adventure, a challenging and controversial excursion through history, psychology, and scandals taken straight from the news. He revisits the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, the suicide of Sylvia Plath, the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal at Penn State University, 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 because we don't know how to talk to strangers, we are inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a profound effect on our lives and our world. In his first book since his #1 bestseller, David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell has written a gripping guidebook for troubled times.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[I]ntellectually stimulating...Another Gladwell tour de force but perhaps his most disturbing." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Gladwell pleas for more thoughtful ways of behaving and advocates for people to embrace trust, rather than defaulting to distrust, and not to 'blame the stranger.' Readers will find this both fascinating and topical." - Publishers Weekly

"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. The stranger is not easy; she is never as transparent as we believe. Gladwell's case studies are thrilling." - Maggie Taft, Booklist

"Gladwell presents an intriguing analysis of what far too often goes wrong when strangers meet, diving deeply into controversial public incidents." - Dale Farris, Library Journal

This information about Talking to Strangers was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Cloggie Downunder

a fascinating and enlightening read.
4.5?s
“There are clues to making sense of a stranger. But attending to them requires care and attention. We should accept the limits of our ability to decipher strangers.”

Talking To Strangers is the sixth book by British author, Malcolm Gladwell. Is it a book about social interaction? Yes, certainly, but not so much a “how to” as a “why do we get it wrong”. Gladwell explores the reasons that we seem to be so bad at telling when strangers are lying to us. He does this with reference to a myriad of psychological experiments, research, case studies and examples.

Gladwell holds that we are successfully deceived by strangers through a combination of three main reasons: the fundamentally human tendency to default to believing we are being told the truth; that facial expression and demeanour are much less reliable than we believe; and context matters a great deal.

“We fall out of truth-default mode only when the case against our initial assumption becomes definitive. We do not behave, in other words, like sober-minded scientists, slowly gathering evidence of the truth or falsity of something before reaching a conclusion. We do the opposite. We start by believing. And we stop believing only when our doubts and misgivings rise to the point where we can no longer explain them away.”

Gladwell cites examples of Cuban spies and the CIA, Hitler and Chamberlain, Bernie Madoff and the SEC, the Penn State Paedophile Case, a murder in Perugia, and more “If every coach is assumed to be a pedophile, then no parent would let their child leave the house, and no sane person would ever volunteer to be a coach. We default to truth—even when that decision carries terrible risks—because we have no choice. Society cannot function otherwise. And in those rare instances where trust ends in betrayal, those victimized by default to truth deserve our sympathy, not our censure.”

Gladwell talks about whistle blowers, bail judges, alcoholic blackout and sexual assault, the effects of torture on brain function, and ultimately relates it all back to the tragic consequences of a traffic stop in Texas.

Regards reading faces and behaviours: “Each of us, over the course of our lives, builds our own set of operating instructions for our face, based on the culture and environment we inhabit. The face is a symbol of how different human beings are, not how similar we are, which is a big problem if your society has created a rule for understanding strangers based on reading faces.”

He tells us “Our strategies for dealing with strangers are deeply flawed, but they are also socially necessary. We need the criminal-justice system and the hiring process and the selection of babysitters to be human. But the requirement of humanity means that we have to tolerate an enormous amount of error. That is the paradox of talking to strangers. We need to talk to them. But we’re terrible at it”

And also “The thing we want to learn about a stranger is fragile. If we tread carelessly, it will crumple under our feet. And from that follows a second cautionary note: we need to accept that the search to understand a stranger has real limits. We will never know the whole truth. We have to be satisfied with something short of that. The right way to talk to strangers is with caution and humility.”

Fully indexed, and with footnotes and thirty-one pages of comprehensive end notes, this is a fascinating and enlightening read.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Penguin UK

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Author Information

Malcolm Gladwell Author Biography

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of five New York Times bestsellers — The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath. He is also the co-founder of Pushkin Industries, an audio content company that produces the podcasts Revisionist History, which reconsiders things both overlooked and misunderstood, and Broken Record, where he, Rick Rubin, and Bruce Headlam interview musicians across a wide range of genres. Gladwell has been included in the TIME 100 Most Influential People list and touted as one of Foreign Policy's Top Global Thinkers.

Author Interview
Link to Malcolm Gladwell's Website

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  • The Tipping Point jacket

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