Review: Talking to Strangers by Maxwell Gladwell

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

Malcolm Gladwell


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.
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?
While tackling these questions, Malcolm Gladwell was not solely writing a book for the page. He was also producing for the ear. In the audiobook version of Talking to Strangers, you’ll hear the voices of people he interviewed–scientists, criminologists, military psychologists. Court transcripts are brought to life with re-enactments. You actually hear the contentious arrest of Sandra Bland by the side of the road in Texas. As Gladwell revisits 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. There’s even a theme song – Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout.”
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 the book, Talking to Strangers, author Malcolm Gladwell starts off sharing about Sandra Bland. The incident she endured led him to write this book. Sandra was a black woman who while driving failed to use her turn signal while changing lanes. That led to her being pulled over and the exchange between the police officer and her got out of hand. The police officer became irritated by Sandra and the end result was her being arrested and put in jail. A couple of days later she was found dead her jail cell (death by suicide). You can watch the whole incident on youtube.

The author sets out to find out why people have a failure to communicate with each other.

The beginning and the ending of the book are about the Sandra Bland case but the rest of the book dissects other incidents in our history where we take people at face value and how at times that fails us. We think we can judge a person by looking at them, hearing them, etc but because people are deeply layered, can anyone really know someone from a casual meeting? Gladwell talks about Truth Default Theory, Transparency, and Coupling.

The book questions how differently the interaction with the police officer and Sandra Bland might have taken and what might have been the end result. Or better yet should she have been pulled over in the first place? Was the failure to signal a lane change significant enough to warrant the officer to pull her over. So many things could have happened and should have happened differently that would have led to a different outcome for Sandra Bland.

This book will show the reader mistakes made in history that still play a part in the way we see the world. Kind of like seeing a Twitter video that has you shaking your head at how a person can treat a stranger with such disregard … this book is that for the reader.

I picked this book up after listening to Dax Shepard’s podcast where he interviewed Gladwell. Since they didn’t discuss the book I had no clue what the book would be about. I figured it would be a basic self-help book on how to talk to a stranger. While it really isn’t that type of book, it took me on a journey I wasn’t expecting.

I listened to the audio. The author used the actual audio where people told their story and in other areas he used actors to reenact a scene. It made for an intriguing listening experience. Almost like listening to a podcast.


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Author: Foxy

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