Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know

by Malcolm Gladwell


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In the B&N Podcast: Malcolm Gladwell on Why We Get Each Other Wrong. Listen Now


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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316478526
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 09/10/2019
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 351
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

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.


New York, NY

Date of Birth:

September 3, 1963

Place of Birth:

England, U.K.


University of Toronto, History degree, 1984

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Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Neil Best More than 1 year ago
In a falsely dichotomous world where someone is either right or wrong, republican or democrat, good or bad, this or that, 0 or 1, Gladwell has undertaken the Herculean task of understanding why we are so disposed to opposing viewpoints. In typical Gladwell fashion, he seamlessly weaves together a series of historical anecdotes and challenges our assumptions about what we think to be true. He jumps from 1500’s Aztecs to the #metoo movement and sexual violence, to the 1940’s and Nazi’s, all along the way pulling together a single narrative about what it means to interact with the “other.” He challenges us not be meet strangers with assumption or suspicion, but to turn that suspicion to our own beliefs and convictions. Talking to Strangers has the hallmarks of Gladwell’s style with intimate descriptions of people, social science research, and unique stories that we never took the time to research ourselves. The book is divides 12 chapters into 5 different sections which are meant to help organize the main theme of talking to strangers. Early on, in the first section, Gladwell presents two puzzles of why these interactions are so complicated and challenging. • Puzzle Number One = “Why can’t we tell when the stranger in front of us is lying to our face?” • Puzzle Number Two = “How is it that meeting a stranger can sometimes make us worse at making sense of that person than not meeting them?” His strikingly simple answer is that we are human and are overwhelmingly predisposed to default to truth, which is a concept he borrows from Tim Levine. Gladwell’s historical anecdotes and research summaries methodically reinforce the truth that, like objects in motion, we default to our current beliefs until there is enough evidence to the contrary. In the end, Talking to Strangers is a masterful gut punch that catalogs the dangers, not of interacting with strangers, but of being too committed to our existing beliefs. Gladwell’s argument is far more nuanced than strangers are dangerous. Instead, he argues that the true danger comes from not critically evaluating our own beliefs and assumptions and the trust that we put into people in positions of authority. For those of you familiar with Gladwell’s books or new to his craft, this is Gladwell at his best. It’s easy to read, challenging to digest, and hauntingly truthful in its analysis. With our country at a crossroads and seemingly so eager to divide into opposed viewpoints, this books challenges us to melt into the uncertainty of a third alternative that recognizes the truth that exists on both sides. For those that have ears to hear or a desire to move beyond the hopeless gridlock of society, this book demands your fullest attention and consideration.
Anonymous 12 months ago
MG's ideas and findings always make me think about my own and what pop-science makes us believe. I know he doesn't have the solutions, but thinking differently is the first step!
Anonymous 10 months ago
Thought he spent a lot of time talking about the same cases. It would seem there is no sure way to read the stranger when you first meet them. Enjoyed reading the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read and loved every book by this author. I was eagerly awaiting this book but frankly, not his best. it felt a bit disjointed and lacked the depth of his other books,
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the first book that I have come across that I read every page of it.
Richard Patterson 5 months ago
'Talking to Strangers' is the first book by Gladwell that I have read. Here's what I learned. 1. In general, we tend to believe people; this is called 'default to truth'. Gee, could this be because in our experience in life most of the time other people have been reasonably truthful, so we're just going with the odds? 2. Oh, wait. It turns out that if somebody acts like a scumbag, then we are less likely to believe him (or her) than if he acts like Prince Charming. We can be fooled if someone is not what he appears to be on the surface. Who would have thought that? Oh, and surface 'appearances' are not universal; they may vary between cultures. 3. Consumed alcohol (I mean, like to the point of causing blackout) can garble our perceptions of another person's meaning and intent. Since I'm not in the habit of drinking to the point of inebriation or blackout, or entering into transacttions (sexual or otherwise) with others who do, I really couldn't care less. 4. Subjects being interrogated (tortured) are likely to bear unreliable witness. They might tell you anything they think you want to hear, true or otherwise, just to stop the interrogation. Really? And again, I don't encounter this very often in day-to-day life. 5. Trends like suicide or certain criminal activities are often linked or 'coupled' to particlar methods or locations. It's completely unclear how this relates in any direct way to talking to strangers. That's about it. This is a short book that took me a long time to read because every time I picked it up I fell asleep within about five pages due to its impoverishment of relevant and revelatory ideas and the soporific style in which it is written. I guess I can see why it's on the bestseller list. It's a little bit like the non-fiction equivalent of G. Flynn's 'Gone Girl'.
Anonymous 3 months ago
This book was not one of my Gladwell favorites and all 8 of my fellow book club members were in agreement with me. I picked it for my book club to read last month based on Oprah’s recommendation and his interview on Super Soul Sunday. He takes very long, winding roads to get to his points and there were times when I failed to connect the dots at all. For ex, what does Sylvia Platt; suicide and coupling have to do with how we talk to strangers? Sadly, at the end of this book, I really didn’t learn anything like how I would do a better job of talking to strangers. I was hoping for some insight on this subject but none was forthcoming.
Grady Whatley 4 months ago
Excellent read. Gladwell has done it again. Unmistakeable style and skillful storytelling.
nlbress 4 months ago
I received an ARC. So compelling! It was fascinating to challenge my ideas about "strangers" - really a must read for anyone who deals with strangers (i.e. all of us!) on the regular. Assume nothing. Take responsibility.
SusanMMB 8 months ago
Gladwell used multiple anecdotes from transcripts and interviews to bring “truth-default theory” to life in "Talking to Strangers." He worked through this theory as a way to explain the position most people default to when talking with strangers. Truth-default theory originated with Timothy R. Levine, a distinguished professor and chair of communication studies at the University of Alabama Birmingham. Gladwell explained that when talking to others, we accept they’re telling the truth. We look at two scenarios, and we go with the more likely answer. Something has to push us over the threshold for us to not default to truth. “To assume the best about another is the trait that has created modern society,” Gladwell said. “Those occasions when our trusting nature gets violated are tragic; but…to abandon trust as a defense against predation and deception – is worse” (342-343). Gladwell opened and closed the book with the case of Sandra Bland, pulled over for failing to use a signal on July 10, 2015 in Prairie View, Texas. That minor traffic violation led to a troubling exchange between her and state trooper Brian Encinia that led to her arrest. I didn’t remember this story so this was a fresh telling for me. He ended with the Bland case after a journey through other stories where he further developed “default-to-truth theory” and moved on to what I’ll call companions to default-to-truth for how we make sense of the stranger. He moved from a look at Cortez vs. Montezuma II to Fidel Castro & Cuban spies and the CIA, UK ambassadors and Adolf Hitler, finally turning his attention to stories from today’s headlines. He talked about the controversial cases of Jerry Sandusky, Larry Nassar, and Bernard Madoff, as well as Amanda Knox, and Brock Turner. A chapter labeled “Sylvia Plath” caught my eye. She and Anne Sexton were included. I couldn’t wait to see why. I kept thinking, “I feel like singing the Sesame Street song, “One of these things is not like the other.” Some of these stories were not like the others and didn’t appear to belong. They did connect eventually, and that’s what made the book a stimulating mental treat. I thought Gladwell triumphed as a storyteller. I talked about this book often as I read, so riveted was I by these stories and the new insights I gained. I told people he’s like Paul Harvey in that he gave you “the rest of the story” once he developed his argument further. So many of his cases invited further study. He’s restored my faith in journalism. I could tell he thoroughly researched the cases presented and worked to give back an unbiased re-telling. He conducted interviews and used transcripts to bring life to the stories. (Yes, that meant I did see curse words.) Included were copious notes in the back. And he even gave an email address in the notes section for readers who notice an error they want to dispute. I felt better informed about past and present cases, and I appreciated how Gladwell showed compassion and empathy for people the media had tried in the court of public opinion. When I finished this book I thought: “Give this guy a Pulitzer!”
Anonymous 9 months ago
Hitler, Castro, Madoff, Jerry Sandusky, Brock Turner, judges, spies, cops, terrorists. Gladwell covers a lot of territory and justifies his premise that humans can't tell when someone is lying to them. But we already knew that. What makes this book great is the master story telling. I could not put this book down! We knew that Hitler was a master of crowd persuasion, but it also turns out he was a master of charm and interpersonal persuasion as well and could be quite funny at times. The people who met him face to face - Chamberlain and Lord Hallifax - believed him. Those who didn't, like Churchill, were more skeptical. This theme, that face-to-face personal interaction makes harder to detect a lie, is repeated often. The Madoff case featured a guy named Markopolos who was a financial analyst who preferred not to meet with anyone personally. He did his work through number crunching and detective-like work and was onto Madoff years before anyone else. By not meeting Madoff, he could not be seduced by Madoff's charm. The chapter dealing with spies was insane. Ana Montes and Aldrich Ames were spies, who did a very poor job of hiding their misdeeds, yet remained undetected due to human natures' "default to truth" bias. Although the evidence was there, supervisors and others just assumed, wrongly, they were on our side. Since they were't looking for spies, they didn't see them. The Brock Turner case: Our nature is to look for villains and to blame and punish, but Gladwell has a different villain - excessive drinking. Turner apparently didn't really remember what happened, and neither did the victim. They were both hugely drunk. And I don't think it's just rape that happens under drunken circumstances. Car accidents, fights, injuries, people falling off balconies - these also come with the territory. So I'm with Gladwell on this one. The matter of fragility of memories is visited, and not just with the Turner case. The most interesting was the torture of terrorists. While this might be justice and appealing to some people, the downside is that torture rearranges the brain and what legitimate memories that would have available can be destroyed. In one example, volunteer soldiers are asked to reproduce a slightly complex schematic type of drawing. Before the torture, they can reproduce it reasonably well. After, the details disappear and errors are introduced. Anyway, this is a great read by a master storyteller and I heartily recommend it.
DeediReads 10 months ago
Rating: 4.5 / 5 Content trigger warning: Sexual assault, suicide Talking to Strangers is, without a doubt, Malcolm Gladwell at his finest. And at his most culturally relevant. Gladwell’s skill at combining stories and examples with scientific study in order to keep you engaged and demonstrate complex psychological phenomena is unparalleled. I highly recommend listening to this one as an audiobook. I own a physical copy of the book and still waited for the library’s audio version to become available, because it’s really unlike any other nonfiction listening experience. Instead of Gladwell reading the transcripts in each of his examples, he includes the actual audio (or, when not available, reenactments) of real police encounters, court testimony, etc. It was incredibly powerful. The book is all about how easy it is for humans to misinterpret one another and miscommunicate, which has drastic results in interactions like police encounters, college parties, and courtrooms. Big, big warning for readers: He dives very deep into cases that could trigger significant trauma, like Sandra Bland, Jerry Sandusky, Larry Nassar, and Brock Turner. It was very, very emotional and difficult for me to listen to, and I don’t have a history of that sort of trauma. So if those might be difficult for you to read /listen about, tread carefully into this book (if at all). Gladwell begins by talking about Sandra Bland, a Black woman who was unfairly pulled over by a police officer. The officer escalated the encounter quickly and inappropriately, and she was eventually brought to jail, where she committed suicide. This encounter becomes a case study on all the reasons why talking to strangers is much more difficult than we realize, and why we so often get it wrong. Chapter by chapter, Gladwell examines each facet of this phenomenon before bringing them all back together in the end to offer an explanation of what went so wrong with Sandra Bland. One of the major points of the book is that humans have a natural default for truth, meaning that we assume people are being truthful with us. Rather than collecting each piece of information in an encounter to decide whether they are being honest or lying, we assume they are honest and don’t switch to thinking they’re lying until there is enough evidence to convince us to switch sides. And yes, this will result in us being duped sometimes. But if we didn’t have this natural tendency, then every encounter would look like the police officer who stopped Sandra Bland, and society couldn’t function at all. This is just so fascinating, and Gladwell describes and explains it so thoroughly. What I always find so impressive about his books is how he gives me talking points for conversations with others — I find myself wanting to talk about it, share what I learned, exclaim about it all. And I think that’s the mark of a good book. I did think he got a little dicey when he was talking about the Brock Turner case and the way alcohol inhibits our ability to talk to strangers — it was indeed grounded in science, and I respect that it is difficult to talk about the science of alcohol consumption without making people worry that you’re going to blame the victim. And he danced too close to that line a few times, in my opinion, but did eventually back away from it and make a clear point, in the end, to not blame the victim. I’m going to be thinking about this one for a long time. I definitely recommend.
Carlcen 11 months ago
I have loved every one of Mr. Gladwell's books, and couldn't wait for this one. I was a bit disappointed. IMO, this book was more difficult to get through than any of his previous books. I think the reason for that was that in his other books, he uses more everyday examples to explore his theories... examples that EVERYONE is familiar with. In this book, he seemed to use more complex examples to explore his theories. I felt more like I was laboring a bit to read this one than I have with his previous books.
B-loNY More than 1 year ago
Kimmiepoppins More than 1 year ago
WOW! This one blew my mind. A powerful and enlightening read that will make you question everything you know. It's perfect for the world we are living in and so many of the things we are struggling to make sense of. Once again, data and our ability to thoughtfully examine it feels like the only true possible game-changer out there. You don't want to miss this one.
JAMuckley More than 1 year ago
Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, "Talking to Strangers" is a book about reading people and trust. It is a book about gauging someone you don't know and how to discern if they are telling the truth. Gladwell weaves the stories of some of the top new stories of the past decade and before to explain his concepts. He starts with Sarah Bland, an African-American who was pulled over by a police officer for not signaling when changing lanes. She then resisted the officer, reacting with indignation for getting pulled over, who then forcibly arrests her. Three days later she is found dead as she hung herself in jail. Other new stories include: the case of Amanda Knox, Jerry Sandusky, Bernie Madoff, even Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler. These stories are about reading people and the human brain's "default to truth" mode that we assume everyone is telling us the truth until the evidence otherwise turns the tide to mistrust. Another concept covered is when someone's behavior is "mismatched" to the circumstance. These incongruent personality anomalies make our brain doubt what we hear people our eyes don't "see" it. These actually lead to us placing blame on innocent people. The final concept discussed in his book was "coupling." That certain activities are tied inherently to locations, methods, etc. that would be avoided if the thing it is tied to is curtailed. This book was a very fascinating read on how we see and perceive the world around us. It gives new insights about what we may or may not be perceiving in others and that we need to look more closely in some cases before declaring judgment on someone without all of the information, especially a complete stranger. I received this as an eBook from Little, Brown and Company via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review of the title. I did not receive any compensation from either company. The opinions expressed herein are completely my own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
mytwocents More than 1 year ago
Wow, does this book ever suffer from a severe case of foot-in-mouth disease! I almost didn’t make it past the introduction. In my pre-publication copy, Gladwell writes, “The Sandra Bland case came in the middle of a strange interlude in American public life” and then goes on to discuss a series of cases of police violence against black people that happened around 2014. “Strange interlude.” Really? That phrasing suggests that this treatment was some sort of aberration in American history and that the violence only happened during the few years he references. Did Gladwell really mean to ignore America’s long history of this problem? I don’t think so? I think he may have meant that the attention paid to police violence was unusual, but dude, choose your words much more carefully. Later on, there are some good points made about how and why we tend to misunderstand each other. But, again, I almost put the book down, this time while reading the chapter on the Brock Turner sexual assault case. Without going into detail, that chapter could only have been written by someone who's buried his head in the sand over the past five years or so. It’s tough to ignore the problematic elements of Talking to Strangers. I could definitely see the discussion of the causes of sexual assault offending some readers to the point that they abandon the book altogether. I’ve definitely enjoyed other books by the author a lot more than this one. Two stars. Thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for giving me a DRC of this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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