‘Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know’ by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell has written many books that pose fascinating questions (Blink, Outliers, Tipping Point, David & Goliath). He researches answers to certain questions and comes up with some surprising conclusions. Some find his books too anecdotal and not scientific enough, while others think his writing is quite approachable and instructive. Either way, it’s usually quite interesting! These are some of the questions in this one: 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?

What do these questions all have in common? The tools we use to make sense of people we don’t know are perhaps not as reliable as we think. We default to trust and truth and generally believe what people say, perhaps more than we should. Gladwell narrates the audio version of the book himself and when he revisits the arrest of Sandra Bland, the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, and the suicide of Sylvia Plath, you hear directly from many of the players in these real-life tragedies. Just be warned that some of Gladwell’s dramatic descriptions relating to sexual violence and suicide might be disturbing or triggering for some.

5 responses to “‘Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know’ by Malcolm Gladwell

  1. I thought this was quite an interesting approach for this author, who I believe self-identifies as a Black Canadian, to discuss racial relations between police and Black Canadians south of the border. At least that’s what I feel is what motivated the writing of this book. He wanted to address police brutality and found a rather unique way to do so.

    • He certainly is passionate about the issue of racial profiling, but it is just one of the examples he uses in this book where he discusses deep misunderstanding between strangers (he also looks at sexual violence, war, and espionage). He discusses a wide range of assumptions that people make, both positive and negative and how that can lead to difficulty.

  2. * oops… Black Americans south of the border!

  3. I’m curious why you only gave it 3 stars. It sounds like a book John would be especially interested in.

    • Hi Laura, Well you’ve just asked my most common FAQ! Firstly, I give stars reluctantly because it is not easy to rate such a subjective thing. The reason I do it, is because it does help my blog readers a bit, but it is not an exact science, more of a gut feel. Secondly, three stars is still a good rating. Roughly, 5 is “an excellent book for most people”, 4 is “an excellent book for many people” 3 is “a great book for many people” 2 is “might be good for some but I didn’t like it” and 1 is “don’t bother.” So in this case I felt slightly disappointed with his conclusions and I felt that I couldn’t recommend it more widely because of his detailed presentation of the violence in case examples which might be triggering for some. My son-in-law is a lawyer and found the book fascinating because in his line of work it is always challenging to “read” people in terms of whether they are telling the truth or not. So yes, I think John would like it, especially if he has enjoyed other Gladwell books. Gladwell’s style is so interesting and easy to read but is mostly anecdotal and less scientific than some would like. His books do, however, provide lots of food for thought which John would enjoy. Hope that helps! It’s been fun following your posts on your time in Switzerland! Stay well! Joanne

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