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Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know

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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.

379 pages, Paperback

First published September 10, 2019

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About the author

Malcolm Gladwell

142 books34.5k followers
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.

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Profile Image for Mimi.
100 reviews4,137 followers
October 20, 2020
As I sat at the airport, head deep in a book, I suddenly heard, "Hi!" What? To my left stood a handsome man. "I just thought I should say hi since I see you're reading Talking to Strangers."

I too thought Malcolm Gladwell's new book was going to teach me how to literally talk with people I don't know, but as always he turns all my assumptions on their head with this book. If that's what the book was about, that stranger and I might be on a date by now.

If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy... We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues.

At the 2019 book conference BookExpo America, Malcolm pointed out that the problems exemplified by the death of Sandra Bland, a black woman arrested by a white policeman, are everywhere, not just in the darkest areas of America. It lies not only with these individuals but within each of us.

In his book, he takes huge scandals (and who doesn't love to read about a scandal?), reaches deep inside like you would your skinniest jeans and then pulls them inside out. Except that when he does this, you suddenly realize your jeans had actually been inside out before. It is mind bending, which means that you have to follow along to at least page 54 before you start to understand where Malcolm is going. You will either find this too convoluted to keep going at some point or you will read it all in one sitting, as I did flying from NY to CA. My one frustration with this book is that at the very end Malcolm spends only 2 pages (2!) saying what we should do about all he just taught us. After speeding through the book, that feels like an abrupt stop. On the other hand, I can't stop thinking about what he reveals along the way. I can't unsee what he has shown me and now my framework of looking at the world is different. And isn't that the mission of any good book?

SPOILER ALERT: For those of you who don't keep reading the book, here are my key insights. But to really understand what Malcolm argues happened in cases like Fidel Castro's fooling of the CIA, the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, the suicide of Sylvia Plath, the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal, and the death of Sandra Bland you need to read the whole book.

1. THE DEFAULT TO TRUTH PROBLEM We do not behave, in other words, like sober-minded scientists, slowing 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.

For a very few, there is no high threshold before doubts turn into disbelief - dishonesty and stupidity is everywhere. In Russian folklore, this archetype is called yurodivy, the "Holy Fool." We should be strategically inserting these people where our society has a blind eye, to be whistle blowers, however we don't want these to blanket their judgement on everyone. While we think we want our guardians to be alert to every suspicion, that is actually key to where the police officer so tragically failed Sandra Bland. It wasn't that he didn't do what he was trained to do, but that he did exactly what he was trained to do. He was taught to blanket perfectly innocent people with suspicion in case of the rare instance of a criminal. This kind of thinking leads to the distrust we see between police and the community today. To assume the best of another is the trait that has created modern society. Those occasions when our trusting nature is violated are tragic. But the alternative - to abandon trust as a defense against predation and deception - is worse.

2. THE TRANSPARENCY PROBLEM Transparency is a myth.

How people are feeling inside often does NOT perfectly match how they appear on the outside, which means we are misjudging other's intentions. This doesn't matter as much with close friends where you understand what their idiosyncratic expressions mean (I had a friend who would often abruptly get up and leave. Other people would think she was very angry at something someone had said, but I saw nothing wrong because I could tell she wasn't angry at all.) When we are confronted with a stranger, we have to substitute an idea - a stereotype - for direct experience. And that stereotype is wrong all too often. However while this strategy for dealing with strangers is deeply flawed, it is also socially necessary. 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... we're not always honest with each other about just how terrible at it we are."

3. THE MISMATCH PROBLEM We are bad lie-detectors in those situations when the person we're judging is mismatched.

A mismatch is where someone's level of truthfulness does NOT correspond with the way they look. I think someone is honest based on how they look and act but in actuality they are lying and I can't tell the difference.

Malcolm dissects the case of Brock Turner, where because these two strangers were blind drunk, myopia removed the highest order constraint on their behavior. Myopia makes it hard to consider the long-term consequences, so a sexually aggressive teenager's impulses are no longer kept in check by an understanding of how inappropriate those behaviors are and the long term risks of those behaviors. Combine that with mismatching and transparency problems and it's a disaster. If you want people to be themselves in a social encounter with a stranger - to represent their own desires honestly and clearly - then they can't be blind drunk.

4. THE COUPLING PHENOMENON The first set of mistakes we make with strangers... have to do with our inability to make sense of the stranger as an individual. But there's a second category of error that has to do with our inability to appreciate the context in which the stranger operates... Coupling is the idea that behaviors are linked to very specific circumstances and conditions.

For instance, both crime and suicides are coupled - tied to very specific places and contexts. Outside of those places and contexts, the rate of both go down drastically. That means when you confront the stranger, you have to ask yourself where and when you're confronting the stranger - because those two things powerfully influence your interpretation of who the stranger is.


We could start by no longer penalizing each other for defaulting to truth... We should also accept the limits of our ability to decipher strangers... But far more important than a little grace and humility over what we cannot do, we should be clear about what we can [do]... There are clues to making sense of the stranger. But attending to them requires humility and thoughtfulness and a willingness to look beyond the stranger, and take time and place and context into account.

Malcolm Gladwell was motivated by a need to understand the truth of what happened with Sandra Bland and other recent scandals. His conclusion is that the "truth" ... is not some hard and shiny object that can be extracted if only we dig deep enough and look hard enough. The thing we want to learn about a stranger is fragile (just by stressing someone out you can affect their memory of what happened) ... 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.

Because we do not know how to talk to strangers, what do we do when things go awry with strangers? We blame the stranger.

*My honest review was made possible by an Advanced Reader Copy from Book Expo America.*

Update: I've since written a similar review for So You Want to Talk About Race which is a book that gives you tips on how to talk with people of other races, making it a good pairing with this book.
Profile Image for Allie.
138 reviews132 followers
February 28, 2020
TW: detailed descriptions of rape and pedophilia

If it were possible to give a book negative stars, this would be a -10 for me.

Malcolm Gladwell is incredibly influential. From books to podcasts to TED talks, he seems to be everywhere and his story-based approach reaches a large number of people who don't question his credentials as a journalist (with no scientific training) who writes about science. I enjoyed Blink and Outliers despite the often dodgy claims Gladwell makes based on studies that are small, poorly designed and/or not replicable. The man does know how to create an engaging narrative and create ‘aha’ moments that excite the reader.

And, after all, he admits he isn't a scientist, but instead "...a storyteller who uses research to augment the stories—who places the stories in the lead and the science in a supporting role, rather than the other way around."

Okay, I hear you shrugging. So what? Well, in Talking to Strangers, Gladwell brings his folksy approach and tendency to present his opinions as truth to a painful and horrifying subject: sexual abuse. The book explores our inability to tell when people are lying, especially when they are confident and lack obvious tells (e.g., shifty eyes, covered mouth). Gladwell suggests most people "default to truth" when interacting with strangers and that considerable evidence is needed before we believe someone is lying. Moreover, he feels this approach is vital to our social compact. By contrast, he believes approaching people with distrust as a default (such as police officers who see every person as a potential suspect) would make normal functioning impossible.

In making his case, Gladwell describes two cases of serial pedophiles who operated for decades before being caught: Larry Nassar, the doctor who molested young female gymnasts in his care (often in the presence of their parents), and Jerry Sandusky, the coach who sodomized young boys in his sports programs and foster care. Reading these stories--which described how the young victims were raped and assaulted in page after page of excruciating detail--made me want to scrub my brain with bleach.

And then we get to Gladwell's conclusion: that our inability to detect lies means that we should not be too harsh in judging the various adults who failed to protect children who were being sexually assaulted. Here's how he puts it:

"...those victimized by default to truth deserve our sympathy, not our censure."

To clarify, the "victims" in this sentence are not the children who were raped, but the adults (parents, teachers, employers of pedophiles) who ignored warning signs and suspicious behavior for years. People who buried evidence. People who dismissed the discomfort expressed by the children who lacked the vocabulary to explain the horror of being violated by an adult in a position of trust.

Graham Spanier, the former Penn President, was told by one of his own employees that Sandusky was seen in the shower with a young boy, at night in deserted gym facilities, with his body right up against the child. He did not go to the police. He did not call Child Services. He accepted the suggestion from another staff member that Sandusky was just "horsing around" and let the matter drop. Gladwell has a lot of sympathy for Spanier, stating:

"...people liked Grahman Spanier. It's why he had such a brilliant career. It's why you and I would want to work for him. We want Graham Spanier as our President. We think we want our guardians to be alert to every suspicion. We blame them when they default to truth...without stopping to consider the consequences of those actions."

Actually, no. I don't want Spanier as my university President. Or anywhere except in a prison cell. Nor do I think any consequences could be worse than a society that allows children to be abused. A little distrust (or a trust but verify approach) is a good thing when the vulnerable are involved.

Gladwell also spends quite a bit of time throwing doubt on the stories of the boys victimized by Sandusky, noting contradictions and inconsistencies. Gladwell is not a trained psychologist, psychiatrist or a trauma abuse counselor. He has zero experience in dealing with the victims of sexual abuse. Contradictory stories are common in cases of child molestation, as the victims often try to repress or justify their abuse. Gladwell did not personally know any of the children involved. It's unclear if he knows anyone who has suffered from sexual abuse. Yet he feels it is appropriate to suggest that the victims were lying (or wrong) and that Spanier was mistreated for being too trusting.

Later in the book, he defends rapists, including Brock Turner. (In case the name rings a bell, that was the frat guy who undressed, fingered, and tried to rape an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, only to be scared off by two other students.) Gladwell feels that alcohol and mixed signals are mainly responsible for rape. Brock's victim calls for sensitively training on college campuses to help men learn to respect women and says that while heavy drinking was a factor in what happened, it was not the reason for her rape. Her powerful open letter to the court made me cry. Yet Gladwell disagrees with her assessment of why the rape happened, stating:

"Brock Turner was asked to do something of crucial importance that night-to make sense of a stranger's desires and motivations. That is a hard task for all of us under the best circumstances. Asking a drunk and immature nineteen-year-old to do that in the hyper-sexualized chaos of a frat party, is an invitation to disaster."

Not raping someone is a hard task? Gladwell acknowledges harm was done, but he also asks whether the victim flirted with Brock, whether she struggled, or whether she stumbled outside willingly! I agree alcohol clouds judgement and have no problem limiting it as part of a strategy to address assault on campus. But a good man doesn't rape a women, regardless of how much he has been drinking. At best, limiting alcohol might deter monsters like Brock by getting them to think about the possible consequences of their actions (e.g., jail).

Reading this book was like wading through a sewer. The fact that someone with Gladwell’s influence is using his platform to excuse people complicit in sexual assault is disgusting. I will certainly never read anything by Gladwell again.

For more on Gladwell's misrepresentation of science: https://slate.com/technology/2013/10/...

For more on him as an apologist for abusers:
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,989 reviews298k followers
September 14, 2020
I was trying to work through my thoughts on this book when Goodreads did an interview with Malcolm Gladwell and this one thing he said just made everything clear for me:
“I've never been a writer who's looked to persuade his readers; I'm more interested in capturing their interest and curiosity.”

Because, truthfully, I don't know that Gladwell did fully convince me of his way of thinking with this book. I don't know that I actually agree that he can draw a link between the police officer “misunderstanding” Sandra Bland and Neville Chamberlain “misunderstanding” Hitler and make that work. And I don't know that I agree - actually, no, I'm pretty sure I don't - about the way he views the Stanford rape case as a "misunderstanding".*

But, still, I couldn't look away from this book. It's the first book I've read by Gladwell and I can see now why he has become something of a pop-nonfiction writer because he definitely knows how to capture your attention. It's got some psychology, a bit of anthropology, a touch of politics, a dash of espionage... what's not to like?

I found it absolutely fascinating and horrifying when he shows how a "blind" machine can more correctly judge the character and bail risk of criminals than human judges and trained law enforcement. I really enjoyed learning about the way we characterize and judge facial expressions and how this is both misleading AND differs across cultures, so not only do we often incorrectly judge those in our own society and culture, but we've got no chance when faced with someone from a different country.

You ever been to a foreign country and thought people were looking at you weird? Turns out their face might just be in "neutral" or they're even being friendly!

He backs things up with respectable studies and acknowledges limitations when appropriate, which I liked. I do think he umbrellas a lot of very different examples under the "Talking to Strangers" label, and not all of them seem realistically linked to me. But they are interesting, nevertheless.
We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. We would never do that to ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the stranger is easy.
If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy.

In the end, though, he brings all this information, all these studies and examples together to leave us with an idea that is nothing new, but that I think we are all too quick to forget: people are more complex than they first appear. Don’t judge a book by its cover, if you will. Some people are assholes; others are just socially-challenged (me!). Some people are guilty; others just get that shifty look when walking through the metal detectors at the airport (also me!).

I can't deny that I now want to read all his other books.

*In Gladwell's defense, he spoke with a number of sensitivity readers for this chapter and he discusses it in far more depth than I've given the impression of. He goes out of his way to stress that he isn't making excuses for the culprit, but is mostly critical of blackout drinking culture and how this makes an understanding of consent impossible.

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Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews116k followers
February 24, 2021
When I started this book, I was convinced that I would at least give it 4 stars. Malcolm Gladwell is a great narrator, and the audiobook is very well produced, including music, voice actors, and excerpts from real interviews and videotapes. He explores interesting topics ranging from myopia, default to truth, and the way we misread others’ facial expressions. However, I have huge issues with his limiting takes on rape and police brutality. He takes several big-name cases (Sandra Bland, Brock Turner, Jerry Sandusky, etc.) and dilutes them into issues of miscommunication while ignoring large factors like racism, sexism, and power.

To frame abusers and their victims as strangers who had misconceptions of each other oversimplifies the tragedies and assumes all parties operated from the same playing field with no ill motives. If the issue was that police do not know how to properly de-escalate situations, we would have universal cases of civilians of all races being murdered, rather than have these deaths be statistically higher for black people. How is it that Gladwell can elaborate on the police officer being afraid for his life when accosting Sandra Bland due to misreading her social cues, but not go into WHY these "misreadings" happen more frequently with black civilians? Ignoring these racial motivations seems purposely obtuse and takes away the nuances he COULD have made with his arguments, while veering dangerously close into justifying these crimes.

The author would be a lot more credible with his points if he had been more selective with his case studies rather than choosing the most controversial for shock value and contention. Saying “Brock Turner had to make sense of a stranger’s desires and motivations” and calling it “a hard task”, while spending an entire chapter on drinking culture, is a slap in the face to sexual assault victims. I’m sure there is validity in discussing the different ways people define and understand consent, as well as the effects of how drinking muddles communication, but this is the worst case to pick because Turner never cared to “make sense” of his victim’s desires or motivations in the first place. If Gladwell had done actual research into this, he would have known that this case was never about consent or drinking - it was about power. To attribute rape as a result of muddy communications and from being intoxicated is absolutely false, because people who don’t understand social cues are not rapists, nor are alcoholics.

It is one thing to takes prolific stories and force them to comply to blanket generalizations, but it is absolutely irresponsible to apply pseudo science upon systemic issues that actively harm women and people of color. These arguments are dangerous, lack nuance, and are an insult to victims. I would not recommend this book to anybody.
Profile Image for Sofia.
231 reviews6,956 followers
July 28, 2021
Who gave Malcolm Gladwell the authority to invalidate the trauma of thousands of people? I can't believe trees sacrificed their lives so this piece of garbage could be printed 😃

This might just be the most problematic book I've ever read, and I don't say that lightly. It was so disgustingly, blatantly wrong in all ways that I was tempted to throw my phone across the room.

In this book, Malcolm Gladwell introduces the idea that many tragedies across the globe were caused by miscommunication between strangers. His thesis is that misreading social cues causes murder, assault, and aggression.

⚠️A warning: I generally keep my reviews free of themes that could possibly be triggering, but since this book revolves around those sorts of incidents, I have to discuss them. Trigger warnings: Discussion of assault, rape, suicide, murder, police brutality, racism, alcoholism, pedophilia⚠️

I need to lay down some points first.

✧ "Misreading cues" is not an excuse for terrible crimes. Adults should know how to make decisions, and if they don't make the right ones, there will be consequences. Don't you dare try to excuse their actions with weak speculation.

✧ It is not "a hard task" to not assault a woman.
Here's how:
- don't touch her without her permission
Wow, how difficult.

✧ Racism exists and will play a role in all social interactions because that's just how our messed-up world works. Refusing to acknowledge that fact critically damages this thesis.

✧ Pedophilia is bad. I can't believe I actually need to say this

Bad people don't want to understand their victims, and that's what Gladwell doesn't get. It's not simply a matter of getting them to understand each other.

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 most of the incidents he brings up, the victims made themselves very clear (For example: the case of Sandra Bland, where she literally told the police officer that she was uncomfortable and he didn't listen to her). These horrible crimes happen because someone set out to rape/kill/assault/antagonize someone and so they did. Saying that it was a simple misunderstanding invalidates the trauma of so many people. It's the worst victim blaming I've ever seen.

Besides, this book doesn't take into account racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia. They're not just two strangers who happened to misunderstand each other. That's preposterous to say. Not everyone starts out with equal footing.

The most blatantly disgusting story he twisted was that of Chanel Miller, more commonly known as Emily Doe.

Most of us are familiar with the case - Brock Turner assaulted an unconscious woman in Stanford. Seems pretty easy to see who's at fault here, right? But Gladwell decides that it's not actually Turner's fault. It was the alcohol that did it, Gladwell cries. Sure. Sure. Let's just play along with this for a second and see how, even if you remove the problematic aspects, his thesis doesn't make sense.

Let's review his claim. He says that misunderstandings cause tragedy. And then he changes his tune and says that alcohol causes tragedy. Pick one. He spreads himself out too thin, and as a result, he sounds very unprofessional and juvenile.

A young woman and a young man meet at a party, then proceed to tragically misunderstand each other's intentions - and they're drunk.

I don't buy it. I just don't buy it. Good people won't assault others, even if they're drunk. You can't just blame the alcohol and excuse the rapist.

Anyway, onto the problematic parts.

This is what Miller said, and what actually makes sense:

Campus drinking culture. That's what we're speaking out against? You think that's what I've spent the past year fighting for? Not awareness about campus sexual assault, or rape, or learning to recognize consent. Campus drinking culture.... You realize, having a drinking problem is different than drinking and then forcefully trying to have sex with someone? Show men how to respect women, not how to drink less.

After this amazing, wonderful, stunning, convincing speech, Malcolm Gladwell says this:

But that's not quite right, is it? ...Brock Turner was asked to do something of crucial importance that night - to make sense of a stranger's desires and motivations. That is a hard task for all of us under the best circumstances.

Ah, yes. Not raping someone is such a "hard task."

If alcohol were directly connected to sexual assault, then most alcoholics would be rapists. And that's just not the case.

He moves on to the case of Jerry Sandusky and says:

Those victimized by default to truth deserve our sympathy, not our censure.

He's not talking about the victims. He is literally talking about Sandusky. He is making excuses for this terrible man. He is saying we should have sympathy for rapists.

Not on my watch, Mr. Gladwell.

0.01 stars
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,085 reviews68.4k followers
September 18, 2019
Never Trust a Blood Relative

Talking to Strangers is an elaboration of a simple (trivial?) idea: It’s very difficult to tell when people are lying. According to Timothy Levine, the academic psychologist on whom Gladwell relies for his basic argument, the presumption that people tell the truth is almost universal, a few Holy Fools (and, I suppose, Judge Judy) excepted. Levine calls this his Truth Default Theory. Gladwell applies it entertainingly, if rather repetitively, to cases of duplicity ranging from double agents in government agencies to international financial fraud.

The interesting part of Gladwell’s thesis is that we can’t be trained out of our predisposition to believe what ‘credible’ people, that is, folk who exhibit facial traits and body language which conform to cultural conventions, have to say. Police, judges, regulatory officials, even counter-espionage experts have equally poor records for detecting falsehood compared to the rest of us (it also works the other way round: truth-telling appears as lying if accompanied by ‘mis-matched’ behavioural signals). We are genetically programmed to be dupes (I suspect sex as the evolutionary motive!). And there is no reliable technology that does any better.

The implication for me is that the more anyone is familiar with expected conventional behavioural responses, and can perform these as needed, the more credible they will be. Not a terribly innovative conclusion admittedly, but it does suggest that Gladwell has the wrong end of the authenticity-stick. We may have to worry about strangers being honest; but the real danger is the mendacity of those closest to us, those who know what we find credible, namely intimate family members, not strangers.

There’s another issue as well. It’s clear that most 0f us lie to ourselves from time to time, that is, we conveniently and selectively recall events which confirm our self-rationalising narratives. We cannot observe our own physical behaviour to determine the extent of mismatch. Nor would it make any difference if we could since we may actually believe our own press, as it were. I know academics and business people who act this way as a matter of routine. It’s part of their strategy for success. They speak and write with total conviction about things they really know nothing about. One of these may be the president of the United States. Who knows, perhaps even Gladwell is amongst these experts at self-delusion and is simply scamming the rest of us with complete sincerity.

Or am I merely projecting a sort of cynicism about Gladwell’s slick rapportage? Possibly. But he does seem to have a somewhat murky past as a defender of several dodgy industries like tobacco and pharmaceuticals (See: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...). Presumably he was quite handy at spinning credible publicity out of otherwise damaging facts. “Transparency,” Gladwell says, “is a myth—an idea we’ve picked up from watching too much television and reading too many novels.” One wonders to what degree his book might be an instance of the phenomenon he is describing.

Oh, and as an aside, the attribution of the death of a black student in the custody of a Texas jail to an ‘escalating miscommunication between strangers’ verges on the obscene. His use of this example to book-end his narrative and his references to it as a recurring theme suggest some serious judgmental deficiencies. I don’t feel myself defaulting to truth, or Gladwell’s purported truth, in the least.

Postscript 18Sept19: it appears that Gladwell’s bubble is bursting: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/arc...
Profile Image for Megan.
137 reviews
June 11, 2023
UPDATE 9/23/19
I have now changed this to one star. The more I read about this and other pseudo psych crap he pushes...no no no. The enjoyment of some parts of the book does not outweigh the total garbage of parts of it. Two examples are linked below, with a particularly shocking tidbit from one:



The most important part of the first link:
Gladwell: You know I have that chapter on Jerry Sandusky in my book, and it’s all about how I feel the leadership of Penn State was totally, outrageously attacked over this. I think they’re blameless.

Simmons: Yeah.

Gladwell: But with Joe Paterno... Joe Paterno essentially did nothing wrong. He hears the allegation and immediately tells his superiors, and the critique of Joe Paterno was essentially, “Why was a 75-year-old football coach not behaving towards a suspected pedophile with the savvy and insight of a psychiatrist?”

Simmons: Right.

Gladwell: He’s a football coach! He doesn’t even know what the word—there was this hilarious—[regretful sigh] hilarious—there was this moment in, I think one of the trial transcripts, where someone was asked, “Did you use, when you went to”—the quarterback who goes to Paterno, McQueary, the former quarterback, goes to Paterno to tell him this allegation—“Did you use the word sodomy?” And he’s like, “No I didn’t use the word sodomy.” And then there’s this sort of thing, I think, where they’re wondering whether Paterno actually knew what the word sodomy was [laughing].

Simmons: Right.

Gladwell: He doesn’t! He’s been thinking football 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for 60 years. He is not going to be alert to the darkness inside the heart of one of his former coaches. You can’t ask him to do that. That’s why you have mental health professionals or fit, trained psychologists in the world to handle those kind of problems. We do this thing sometimes when a crisis happens, when we suddenly expect our leaders to be skilled at absolutely every job under the sun. They’re not.

NO, I JUST EXPECT LEADERS TO HAVE A FEW BRAIN CELLS THEY CAN POOL TOGETHER TO UNDERSTAND APPROPRIATE RELATIONSHIPS!! WWWWTTTF! Also as a teacher (and there are many other professions that wear many hats--doctors, nurses, social workers, business owners, entrepreneurs, literally almost any job) I am ABSOLUTELY expected to perform more than one specific role. I manage data, help with emotions, involve the community, report suspected abuse and so on. As do many other underpaid and undervalued professions. So it's DISGUSTING and insulting to literally everyone to imply we can allow and expect rich football coaches to be all, "aw shucks, I was only thinking about my next game."


The positive is, Gladwell always keeps me interested. He somehow finds the most interesting anecdotes and stories. Even the ones you have heard before---he has a way of making them seem like there is always more than meets the eye and that they are more interesting. I was never bored listening to this because even if you don't like one section, he's almost on to something else.

But then..

His thing is to take stories that on the surface are completely unrelated and tries to jam them together to fit his central thesis. In this book, the main thesis is the idea that we can't appropriately understand/analyze strangers because we try to get them to fit in a box. That doesn't work because we don't understand everything about that person and their context/background. For example, If a person is mean, he acts like __________. If a person is a crook, he will act__________. Them acting opposite of what we assume they should act like causes us to misjudge them and get the wrong idea. Well, surely this is not a new idea...?

To me, many of the examples he use either don't fit this, have many other factors involved, or at times he even contradicts his own theories.

Let's start with Sandra Bland. His favored incident in the book. His argument here is that she didn't fit the idea of "law abiding citizen" the cop had in his head when he pulled her over and it caused him to be afraid and assume she was a criminal. She was "shifty", "irritable," and generally not happy to be pulled over. Well, who is? I've had some tickets in my day and I have only once been what would be called a bit snappy to a cop, but even when polite, I generally always feel on edge. I've even cried before when I was struggling with money and afraid of getting a ticket. I don't want a ticket, and if I'm getting one, I want the situation to be over ASAP. Don't we all?

So compare me to Sandra, who as a black woman has a whole extra level of fear of the situation, as well as the fact that she has had many more traffic stops than I over generally minor stuff. These cost her a lot of money and are very stressful. Even if the officer didn't know she got stopped often in the past, anyone who has been watching the news LIKE EVER knows African-Americans may at times act more nervous or aggravated than white drivers because of cases like Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, etc etc. And if ANYONE knows this, it damn well would and should be a cop! How are we to believe he had no clue about the racial subtext of pulling over African-American drivers?

Beyond the facts of race, cops should know about de-escalation which if you hear the tape, he did not do this at all. He didn't even attempt it. Let's recall she is pulled over for not signaling which Gladwell fully admits the cop caused by tailing her. Which adds to her irritation. He gets petty with her over lighting a cigarette and screams at her to step out of the car over it. So this pseudo-psych theory that "she isn't acting as he would expect and it made him 'terrified' of her," is just.....BS. I don't discount cops have a hard job and it's harder than we can ever know to stay calm and read strangers. But....but....this was literally all on the cop. If me, being an average citizen knows about deescalation and how race plays a role in traffic stops, no way he did not. Was she a little rude? Maybe, but public service employees (cops, teachers, nurses, etc) have to be able to deal with people who are a little rude. You don't scream at them to get out of the car or say you are going to light them up or say 'good' when they tell you they have epilepsy and they are worried for their health now. I also don't think he was terrified of her and if he was and that's all it took, he's either racist, has power issues, or just an awful cop. Or all of the above? No psych about it. She should never have walked away with felony charges.

To be fair, he is not at happy with how the cop acted that day, but I am more bothered by his over-analysis of the cop. Like this psychology explains his bad behavior.

Then comes Jerry Sandusky. REALLY?? Is this the hill you wanna die on, Malcolm? That Sandusky was "unfairly treated?" Is it possible he is innocent? I guess. Save video tape of someone committing a crime and dozens of witnesses, it's possible ANY convicted criminal could be innocent. I tried really hard to keep an open mind but it's never even clear WHY he believes this so strongly. He says "it's nothing like the Larry Nassar case," which it is often compared to. Why does a crime have to be very similar to another crime of it's type to be true? He says they had more victims. Those victims also never waver in their stories and told many people over the years. First of all, those were girls and these are all boys. One would imagine they may behave differently in the situation. Second of all, and hear me out---is it possible these victims of assault didn't act the way Gladwell felt victims of assault "should act?" Which is his whole theory (we have set ideas of how people should act in certain situations) and yet he comes out on the other side implying Sandusky may be innocent?! Then also, what exactly is the naked showering with slapping sounds if not sex? Just horseplay?? More BS, and if it was .... what adult man would not know horseplay of that manner with a child is destined to be construed as something else?? He never even comes down or attempts to explain why a grown man would engage in naked horseplay with a child.

Then of course, Brock Turner. Yes, college kids should probably drink less alcohol. Wow. Revolutionary. The fact he has to say outright it's not victim blaming reveals he knows what shaky ground he is on.

Just, no. He tries so hard and has so many holes and flaws in his arguments. I wish he would stop trying to force things into his pre-planned thesis that DON'T fit and realize that his gimmicky, pseudo-sociology crap should have been done with his first few books. He needs to stop trying to repeat his success with the same formula.
Profile Image for Jenn.
159 reviews790 followers
September 21, 2019
I DNF'd this book after reading too many cringey statements from Gladwell. He wants to categorize a whole range of evils -- from the victimization of unarmed black people (Sandra Bland) to women being raped at colleges parties (Brock Turner) -- as mere "communication" issues between people.

Sure, there might be some element of miscommunication, but it completely misses the point that there are much larger problems and bigger things going on beyond that.

I get that he's trying to cram these situations into his premise in order to write this book, but the result is completely tone-deaf and helps to justify crimes and ignorance. Instead of encouraging people to be educated on things the don't understand like consent or why prejudice against black people can lead to excessive force against them, Gladwell chalks it up to "communication" barriers.

To be clear, Gladwell doesn't try to say that Bland was at fault for her death, but rather that the officer didn't properly de-escalate. However, he also takes time to explain why race had nothing to do with the situation. For example, he ignores the mountain of evidence that shows that black people are routinely pulled over more frequently. Instead, Gladwell explicitly states that the officer's decision was not race-motivated. However, he reaches this conclusion based on nothing. His sole support for that statement is the statistic that shows this officer often wrote tickets -- to the tune of 1,557 just that year -- but it's a meaningless number that doesn't prove anything if we don't know if those tickets were evenly or fairly distributed.

There's also the question of whether this book states anything new. The idea that black people are treated exactly the same as everyone else and racism is a myth or that women who drink are partially to blame for being raped are two extremely old arguments. There's nothing new or interesting about it. It's old, tired and not worth anyone's time.

There's also questionable logical leaps that Gladwell makes to put forth his antiquated arguments. Mystifyingly, a survey showing that people have different ideas on what constitutes "consent" leads him to the conclusion that there "are no rules" when it comes to consent. Umm what? So if I took a survey that showed that most people don't know where the Ukraine is located, does that mean the Ukraine has no location or does it mean that people are ignorant? Gladwell's tortured logic for the sake of justifying rape is mind-boggling.

Skip this awful, intellectually vapid book.
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,705 reviews25k followers
April 11, 2020
Malcolm Gladwell is viewed as a hugely influential writer and I was eagerly anticipating reading this, my first taste of his work, a body of his thinking on how we, the people, are extraordinarily gullible when it comes to strangers, all too easily taken in by them in our general eagerness to trust rather than be more cautious. He gives a raft of well known examples from history, such as Neville Chamberlain being all to willing to take Hitler at face value, and more recent contemporary examples, such as the runaway success of Bernie Madoff's fraudulent ponzi scheme until it all fell apart, interspersed with interviews with prominent personalities. It turns out that overall, I was doomed to be disappointed with this book.

For me he makes far too many generalisations, often jumping to ill thought out judgements and conclusions whilst omitting key variables, and all too keen to let off those with responsibilities to prevent abuse. The problem is that he sounds frighteningly plausible and genial in the manner in which he lays out his often controversial, poorly researched thinking, so disarmingly seductive, and there are occasions that I cannot deny he is certainly interesting and thought provoking. The latter is insufficient for me to recommend this tome to other readers, I would prefer to direct readers to the many far more expert and well thought out other psychological studies on the complexities of human communication, which in my view will turn out to be a more helpful and productive experience, and additionally are more academically rigorous. Many thanks to Penguin UK for an ARC.
Profile Image for carol..
1,565 reviews8,205 followers
June 20, 2021
Most damning self-analysis ever: "I'd rather be interesting than be right" --Malcolm Gladwell, to Jane Pauley, CBS Sunday Morning, 06/20/21

Not for me, unless I feel like doing a rant-review. Which I'm not ruling out.

Allie's insightful review on excusing those who excused pedophiles: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Leftbanker's thoughtful comments on the Sandra Bland case: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Guardian's review on the obviousness of Gladwell's talking points and race-blind approach: https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...

Atlantic's review on the lack of thesis: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/arc...

Best review ever: "To put it in Hamlet’s words, one may smile, and smile, and be a villain. Makes you think, doesn’t it?"

If any of this is surprising to you, then you are in exalted company, because it also surprises Malcolm Gladwell, whose job it is to be puzzled by banalities and then replace them, after a great pseudo-intellectual circumambulation, with banalities."

--Steven Poole, The Guardian
Profile Image for Leftbanker.
832 reviews331 followers
January 30, 2021
If this had just been stories about spies and the meeting between Hernán Cortés and Montezuma or whatever, I would have rated it five stars. There’s no question that Malcolm Gladwell is a good storyteller, I just wish that he would leave it at that and stop trying to shoe-horn a bunch of tall tales into some sort of coherent statement about the state of the world. I’m not a scientist, but I think that I know science when I see it. I ain’t seeing it here.

“The death of Sandra Bland is what happens when a society does not know how to talk to strangers.”

This is the stupidest thing I’ve heard concerning this tragedy. This was also the whole point of this book and Galdwell’s facile explanation is completely without merit.

The cop was, quite simply, a ginormous fucking asshole. We have it all on film, for Christ’s sake. He just couldn’t let it go that this black woman wasn’t bowing down to him and had the temerity to light up a cigarette in his majestic presence. He pulled her over (as he states) for failing to signal a lane change when he pulled behind her. Are you kidding me? What kind of cop does that?

Brian Encinia: OK, ma’am. [Pause.] You OK?
Bland: I’m waiting on you. This is your job. I’m waiting on you. When’re you going to let me go?
Encinia: I don’t know, you seem very, really irritated.
Bland: I am. I really am. I feel like it’s crap what I’m getting a ticket for. I was getting out of your way. You were speeding up, tailing me…so yeah, I’m a little irritated.
Brian Encinia: Are you done?

“Are you done?” What a total asshole! There is absolutely no question that his tone was completely nasty, just listen to the video. He asked her if she was OK. What does he expect her to say? “Thank you for pulling me over and fucking with me for no reason whatsoever.” This was that point when it went from a bullshit traffic stop to something sinister on his part where he had something to prove to himself. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of another human being who was simply trying to make it through the day.

I wish that Sandra Bland had asked him, “Is this why you became a cop? To hassle people for no good reason?”

She was so incredibly reasonable, and the cop was just a huge asshole. End of story. There are no two sides to this. He is unfit for the job. He either hates black people, or he just hates people. Either way, he doesn’t deserve the public trust that is necessary to be a policeman.

This brings up the entire nature of police work. Like most other American kids, I grew up on a steady diet of TV and movies in which the heroes were cops, yet I never considered being a policeman for even a split second. Why? Probably because I just never felt the need to have power over anyone else, I never felt that I had something to prove. We need to test police recruits for this tendency and weed them out if they have a chip on their shoulder, like Brian Encinia. He should definitely not be a policeman. He is a terrible human being, especially after the fact when he testified that he felt his life was in danger just to cover his ass.

Human beings are sometimes—or oftentimes—fooled by a load of shit some stranger passes off on them. Gladwell is now infamous for cherry-picking examples that prove his point while ignoring volumes that tell of a different outcome. People are often wrong about the intentions of strangers they talk to…except when they are right.

In all of his ramblings about the CIA, the only conclusion we should come to is that the U.S. should just stop spying and try being straightforward and open as a nation, just to see where that gets us. Spying has produced so little benefit, especially when you consider how much money we’ve poured into that black hole. OK, we got Bin Laden, but how much did it cost us to hunt down and assassinate one hairy, old religious fanatic? Imagine instead if we had used all of that money to build schools and hospitals around the world thus building goodwill. I think goodwill trumps some dead fanatic.

“The issue with spies is not that there is something brilliant about them. It is that there is something wrong with us.”

I couldn’t disagree with this more. I would turn this thought on its head: The issue with spies is not that there is something brilliant about them. It is that there is something wrong with them. Of course, the Soviets, East Germans, and Cubans beat the U.S. in spy-craft over the course of decades, because they are a people hatched in duplicitous dictatorships where obfuscation and deceit are required for survival. This is precisely why we should have never tried to battle them in this arena. We should have gone the route of honesty and full disclosure.

As a nation, would we rather excel at deception or honesty?

“Why are we so bad at detecting lies?”

This is a stupid, meaningless question that makes about as much sense as asking why we are so bad at predicting the outcome of a sporting event. You win some, you lose some.

With that said, if your job is to ferret out double agents in an intelligence organization and you interview someone you suspect, and then let them off the hook, you suck, to put it mildly.

Gladwell extrapolates some incredibly outrageous outcomes from his little modern fairy tales.

I had to skip over almost the entire section on the Penn State pedophile story. So, you are a grown man in a locker room. You see another man having sex with a child in plain sight, and you run away without doing anything? What a bunch of cowards we are! The McQueary guy “ran upstairs to call his parents.” What I would have done, had I been in that same situation, before running upstairs to call my parents, would have been to beat that pedo half-to-death. That would have been a better story to tell mom and dad than to say that I had witnessed a child rape and did fuck all about it. I couldn’t live with that level of cowardice.

I had to skip over Chapter Six because it deals with the TV show Friends which makes me physically ill.

Too Good Just for the Comments

Goodreads User James (https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/4...) wrote:

“Malcolm Gladwell: professional ultracrepidarian”

I thought this was brilliant, at least I did after I looked up the word. As somewhat of a professional linguist, I sought out the roots of the word and found probably the most fascinating origin story of any word I’ve ever looked up.


1) one who is presumptuous and offers advice or opinions beyond one’s sphere of knowledge.

2) an insufferable gas bag (at least in Gladwell’s case)

From Latin ultra (beyond) + crepidarius (shoemaker), from crepida (sandal). Earliest documented use: 1819.

The story goes that in ancient Greece there was a renowned painter named Apelles who used to display his paintings and hide behind them to listen to the comments. Once a cobbler pointed out that the sole of the shoe was not painted correctly. Apelles fixed it and encouraged by this the cobbler began offering comments about other parts of the painting. At this point the painter cut him off with “Ne sutor ultra crepidam” meaning “Shoemaker, not above the sandal” or one should stick to one’s area of expertise.

Addition: The story was told by the Roman writer Pliny the Elder, hence Latin.
Profile Image for Betsy.
75 reviews66 followers
September 2, 2019
9/2/2019--I'm knocking this down to two stars. Gladwell's really bad takes on things like race and sexual assault just don't deserve an okay rating.

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 absolutely 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. Three stars, but that’s being generous.

Thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for giving me a DRC of this book, which will be available for purchase on September 10th.
Profile Image for Stephie.
375 reviews17 followers
September 21, 2019
Well. I think I’ve gotta jump off the Malcolm Gladwell bandwagon. This book really irritated me.

First of all, with his previous books, the main argument has been very clear. But ‘Talking with Strangers’ is directionless and, at times, confusing. I didn’t even know what he meant by “strangers” as his definition seemed to keep changing. And I found myself wondering what his point was on more than one occasion.

Furthermore, Gladwell has an annoying habit of presenting his opinions or his “research” (it’s debatable how much of it is actually *his* research) as facts. He is very good at picking and choosing data and statistics and framing them to make whatever point he wants, while ignoring all the other evidence that might disprove his statements. Makes for a good bestseller, I guess. But funny for a book that talks largely about truth and the ‘default-to-truth’ theory. I guess we should just assume that he’s telling us the truth? Maybe the book is a psychological experiment in itself to see how many people buy this bullshit?

He makes some bizarre arguments. He excuses the defenders of paedophiles because of this ‘default-to-truth’ ethos. He seemingly empathises with them, because despite all evidence to the contrary it’s still (according to him) perfectly understandable that we would ignore said evidence because we like to assume that people are telling the truth.

According to Gladwell’s claim in the Brock Turner chapter, that rape was a case of “miscommunication” compounded by alcohol consumption. It verges on victim blaming. Hmmm.

And for the icing on the cake, he attributes the death of Sandra Bland, a young black American woman, again to a “miscommunication between strangers” instead of acknowledging the rather obvious systemic racism that lead to her death.

It just doesn’t sit right with me. I feel that placing the blame on “miscommunication” ignores other very important factors like racism, sexism, corruption and so on. It’s an oversimplification, in my opinion.

Also, I listened to this on Audible, and Gladwell says “Artic” instead of “Arctic”. Wtf.
Profile Image for Traci Thomas.
590 reviews10.4k followers
April 17, 2021
REREAD REVIEW: this book was even worse the second time through. This kind of victim blaming bile is a huge part of what upholds white supremacy and toxic masculinity. Everything below holds, but I’m somehow more enraged this time. The persuasive skills displayed in crafting Gladwells arguments are sickening and in bad faith.

This book has some MAJOR issues and was pretty enraging and frustrating. The biggest technical issue is that there is no definition of “stranger” which allows Gladwell to mold his thin arguments to any hot button topic he chooses. It feels like a publicity stunt to cram as many controversial people/events into the book for maximum shock value. The other huge issue is about how he discusses rape/racism/abuse without talking about race/power/toxic masculinity etc. it’s negligent and dangerous. Gladwell is fantastic at crafting arguments which is what holds this book together but the content is flimsy and offensive.
Profile Image for David.
671 reviews336 followers
June 27, 2021
I'm more than a little gobsmacked by this one.

When did Malcolm Gladwell get red-pilled into a right wing apologist? Or is it just after countless bestselling books and a lucrative podcast empire he thought he'd just go for it with this Fox News ready hot-take?

I mean it starts with Sandra Bland, pulled over in Texas, arrested, jailed and found dead by suicide in her cell three days later. In a book called Talking to Strangers about our inability to properly communicate with people we don't know, this seems a narrow view of the whole interaction. It's like the conversational equivalent of "you shouldn't have worn that dress."

Let's ignore the fact Bland was jailed 3 days for a failed lane signal. That Starbucks baristas have better de-escalation skills than the arresting officer who was, let's not forget, indicted for perjury. This reads like yet another story of "driving while Black" not one of crossed wires and an incomplete transfer of information.

But then Gladwell decides to weigh in on the case of campus rapist Brock Turner.

Brock Turner of course is the former Stanford University swim star, son of a civilian contractor for the United States Air Force who was charged for "20 minutes of action" and served 3 months of a six month sentence after Judge Aaaron Perskey (a Stanford Alumnus himself) felt that prison would have a severe impact on him.

And here comes Gladwell using this, of all incidents, to put forward the notion that sexual assault is a failure to agree on the rules of consent because alcohol causes mental myopia. That Brock Turner simply was ill-equipped to know what he was doing when we was raping an unconscious woman, neglecting the fact he still somehow had enough of a self-preservation instinct to try and run away when he was discovered.

That we're to minimize this is a crime of violence where individuals exert their power and control over another individual sexually and instead speak of it as miscommunication - to shifting the blame to the victim for their failure to communicate clearly is a hard fucking no. And it's not just reprehensible on the page, it has real world ramifications. In fact, just this year the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that it isn't rape to have sex with an unconscious woman if she's gotten drunk voluntarily. What.The.Fuck.

And there the book goes from being willfully dumb, narrowly focused, and cherry picking whatever helps the preexisting argument to downright dangerous. I've just read a 300 page opinion piece from a Conservative rag with all the hard-hitting, well-researched rigour of an online anti-vaxxer. Hard pass.
Profile Image for Dr. Appu Sasidharan (Dasfill).
1,263 reviews2,438 followers
October 23, 2022

How should we talk to strangers? Who are the people we can trust? Who are those we should give the benefit of the doubt? What should we do if someone breaks our trust?

Malcolm Gladwell answers all the above questions through this book.

"To assume the best about another is the trait that has created modern society. Those occasions when our trusting nature gets violated are tragic. But the alternative - to abandon trust as a defense against predation and deception - is worse."

I felt that this book was not as good as previous Gladwell's books, still will be a decent choice to read.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews585 followers
January 1, 2020
Audiobook.. narrated by Malcolm Gladwell

Being honest here.... a lot of this book went right over my head. There is so much I don’t know - it’s pathetic & embarrassing.
Also reading this ( listening) during the last few days of the year was challenging my lazy brain.
I knew it would have been helpful to look up information - (visit my buddy, Google), but I was often soaking in our warm pool, or outside walking.
I was a lazy reader/listener with this book....
but thankfully I own it... thanks to my friend- *Iris*....
(she gifted me this audiobook - sweet girl -knowing I was
1,927 on the waitlist at the library) —
THE HISTORICAL -PAST CURRENT EVENTS - were *ABUNDANT*... as in too much for my brain to take in at one time.

The audiobook had some interesting - awesome podcast type sounds going on - and that I LOVE.
It’s exciting to see audiobook’s raise the bar when it comes to creativity- this one does that!

But... back to things I took away - things I learn - and things I stumbled with.....
.... I learned a little bit more on how Fidel Castro fooled the CIA for a generation.
.... I learned a little more about Neville Chamberlain and his connection to Hitler.
.... I came away a little more afraid about the things I don’t know about people… ( strangers), than, I did before I started this book.
.... I still don’t know why campus sexual assaults are on the rise... ( will somebody explain this to me please)....
....Some parts of the book were eye-opening - some parts shocking:
-one chapter was graphically creepy!! ( child molestation details were YUCK/YUCK/YUCK!!!

It was a little too long winded in parts.
I had to force myself to not drift off -

Ultimately I’m left wondering:
Are there parts of this book I should study more? ( yes, maybe: volunteers are welcomed)... I’ll discuss this book more. I’m willing to learn more....
But on the last day of 2019?

Nope... I need a brain break!

I sincerely thank my friend for gifting me this book. I don’t think it’s an accident that this is the last book of the year I’m ending with.
I am hoping that Paul will listen to this book... as he is always a great buddy to chat with about these heavy issues.

Thank you…to many of friends here in book-land-community....

Wishing everyone a wonderful New Year 🥳

3.5... rating up....( forgiving parts that were hard for me to comprehend due to limitations and laziness)
Profile Image for Gretchen Rubin.
Author 30 books98.2k followers
August 26, 2019
I always feel lucky when I get to read a book before its official publication date. A fascinating, accessible examination of the miscommunications that can arise when we talk to strangers. We're going to interview Malcolm Gladwell for the Happier podcast, can't wait for that.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews41 followers
April 18, 2022
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Timothy Gladwell CM is an English-born Canadian journalist, author, and public speaker.

Miscommunication, interactions and assumptions people make when dealing with those that they don't know. 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.

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «گفت‌و‌گو با غریبه‌ها: هر آنچه که لازم است راجع به کسانی که نمی‌شناسیم بدانیم»؛ «گفت‌و‌گو با غریبه‌ها: چرا در تشخیص حالات درونی دیگران شکست می‌‌خوریم»؛ «صحبت با غریبه‌ها: آنچه در مورد افراد غریبه باید بدانیم»؛ «سخن گفتن با بیگانه‌ها: (آنچه در مورد کسانی که نمی‌شناسیم بایستی بدانیم)»؛ نویسنده: مالکوم (مالکولم) گلدول؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش روز شانزدهم ماه آوریل سال2022میلادی

عنوان: گفت‌و‌گو با غریبه‌ها: هر آنچه که لازم است راجع به کسانی که نمی‌شناسیم بدانیم؛ نویسنده: مالکوم گلدول؛ مترجم: مهبان مقدم؛ ویراستار: فرزانه فرزانیان؛ تهران، هورمزد؛ سال1399؛ در283ص؛ شابک9786227251203؛ موضوع روانشناسی از نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده21م

عنوان: گفت‌و‌گو با غریبه‌ها: چرا در تشخیص حالات درونی دیگران شکست می‌‌خوریم؛ نویسنده: مالکوم گلدول؛ مترجم: رضا اسکندری‌آذر؛ ویراستار: نازنین سرکارات‌پور؛ تهران، کتاب مرو؛ سال1399؛ در249ص؛ شابک9786226202824؛

عنوان: صحبت با غریبه‌ها: آنچه در مورد افراد غریبه باید بدانیم؛ نویسنده: ملکوم گلدول؛ مترجم: محمدرضا مهم؛ آران، پیام امین؛ سال1399؛ در263ص؛ شابک9786008562139؛

عنوان: سخن گفتن با بیگانه‌ها: (آنچه در مورد کسانی که نمی‌شناسیم بایستی بدانیم)؛ مالکولم گلدول؛ مترجم: اصغر اندرودی؛ کرج، در دانش بهمن، سال1399؛ در392ص؛ شابک9789641742524؛

مالکولم گلدول باور دارند، درباره ی ابزار و استراتژیهایی که درباره ی فهمیدن افرادی که نمیشناسیم به کار میبریم اشتباهاتی وجود دارد؛ و نمیدانیم چگونه با انسانهایی که نمیشناسیم گفتگو کنیم؛ باید بدانید که همه غریبه هستند؛ ایشان در این کتاب خویش به بررسی پرونده های «جری سانداسکی»؛ «آماندا ناکس»؛ «امیلی داو»؛ «سیلویا پلات»؛ و «ساندرا بلاند» نیز پرداخته اند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 28/01/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Andy.
1,447 reviews480 followers
August 14, 2023
Gladwell is an excellent storyteller, but I think that sometimes he's dangerously wrong.
When the president of Penn State hears about a former employee coming back to the college at night to "horse around" with a naked 11-year-old boy, well the most likely explanation is not benign. Gladwell keeps saying people default to the "truth" and to the "most likely" explanation. But in examples like this people are defaulting to denial. And that's not okay for those whose job is to be suspicious and responsible.

Gladwell seems surprised that people are gullible and that social trust is important for social animals to thrive. He talks about the Milgram experiments, and gets lost in the weeds about how they were bad theater, underemphasizing the main point, i.e. that 65% of people were sheep who obeyed authority figures telling them to do insane evil things. The implication for what he's talking about is that decisions are made by a few people who create the conditions that then affect everyone else. And so what really matters is what the shepherds and sheepdogs are doing to protect the sheep from the wolves and other perils. Those protectors are supposed to sniff out wolves in sheep's clothing--that's their job. So yeah, it's literally ancient wisdom that we can't have everybody crying wolf all the time, but we do need someone to alert the community about lurking wolves.

I don't get journalists who don't get that some people (like journalists) have the role in society of being skeptical. If Gladwell's facts are correct about the Sandra Bland case, then the big issue there is the corruption of the scientific evidence on effective policing (basically the 80/20 rule: concentrate police scrutiny where the crimes are). Doing traffic stops everywhere all the time is just BS, regardless of racism issues. Wouldn't it be nice if someone had the job of calling BS on bad public policy?

Michael Lewis's podcast series "Against the Rules" is so far all about the decline of the "referee" in America, and I think his insights are more apposite for this discussion about trust and social cohesion than Gladwell's. You can't play a game without referees. Referees can't just defer to the players/cheaters on whether or not they've broken the rules. The undermining of arbiters is what destroys societies.
Profile Image for Carole.
502 reviews91 followers
January 29, 2020
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell appears to be a contentious book: the readers and reviewers have either hated it or loved it, nothing in between. I selected the audiobook version because the author usually reads his books, as he did in this one. The audiobook had an added bonus of providing the reader with actual or reproduced interviews and transcripts of the cases he used as examples. Gladwell extensively used well-known cases that show that, when dealing with people we do not know, we are not always the best judges of their character. Examples of this vary from Hitler to the Amanda Knox case in Italy and many others. Subjects dealt with include spying, child sexual abuse, bigotry, prejudice, financial dishonesty, etc. This book proves again that Malcolm Gladwell is an astute observer of the society we live in. I thought the subject matter was interesting and the research well-done. Highly recommended if you enjoy studying human nature.
18 reviews1 follower
October 5, 2019
This is certainly a provocative book, enough so that despite my anger and frustration I finished reading it in the hope it would conclude with a complex and thoughtful analysis of why our differences and history result in so much misunderstanding when strangers interact with each other.

Sadly my expectations were not realized. The real life examples that he used were not truly examined in depth and the lack of complexity often left me frustrated. I may just be unable to feel any sympathy for a convicted sex offender like Brock Turner, even if he drank too much, I just don't see that as an excuse for his behavior. But that was the basis I got from that example, they were both drunk and so there was misunderstanding, when I was waiting for rape culture to be brought up and added into the mix. Maybe the author doesn't see rape culture as a problem or a factor in this case.

I am sure there are people that will benefit from reading this book, it certainly isn't bad. But I do not think I was the audience the author was writing for.
Profile Image for Maede.
286 reviews413 followers
January 10, 2021
مالکوم گلدول یک داستان گوی فوق‌العادست. تصور کنید تعداد زیادی داستان و فکت تاریخی و نتیجه پژوهش با یک هدف (مثلا) مشخص کنارهم گذاشته بشه؛ از داستان زن سیاه پوست ساندرا بِلند که توسط پلیس متوقف میشه و چند روز بعد خودش رو در سلولش می کشه، تا ماجرای آماندا ناکس، جاسوس های کوبایی، هیتلر، سیلویا پلات و تعرض به کودکان توسط جری سنداسکی و ل��ی نسار. همه ی این ها فقط بخشی از روایت های این کتابه. کی دلش نمی خواد در مورد این همه اتفاق جالب بشنوه/بخونه؟

اما مشکل از جایی شروع میشه که با گذشتن از نصف کتاب متوجه میشی که فقط داری داستان های جالبی می خونی که فقط این جمله به هم متصلشون کرده
ببین فهمیدن آدم هایی که نمی شناسیمشون چقدر سخته!
نه بابا!خب؟
خب همین دیگه!
خب بعدش؟
فقط همین دیگه! میگم سخته!
و تمام

یک لحظه با خودت میگی یعنی من نفهمیدم چی شد؟ مغزت پر از داده های جالب و حتی به درد بخوره و توهم دانستن و یادگرفتن بهت دست میده، ولی اتصال بینشون و هدفشون واضح نیست و من به شخصه جوابم رو با جمله کلی "خب ارتباط برقرار کردن با غریبه ها سخته" نمی گیرم. این شاید از اولین چیزهایی بوده که تو زندگیم یاد گرفتم و برای فهمیدنش به داستان خودکشی سیلویا پلات نیاز نداشتم. هر چند که چقدر مطالب جالبی راجع بهش گفته بود. می بینید؟ هنوز توی ذهنم این اطلاعات برق می زنند، دانستنی ولی بی ربط

مشکل بعدی از جایی شروع میشه که روی بعضی از مثال هایی که میزنه زوم می کنی و به این میرسی که مشکلش یکی از این موارده

١. بیش از حد ساده کردن
چطور میشه مشکلات نژادپرستی رو با کج فهمی بین دو آدم غریبه توضیح داد؟ مشکل ساندرا بلند آشنا نبودن و ارتباط برقرار نکردن با پلیس نبود بلکه نژادپرستی پلیس بود

٢. توجیه کردن
دختر و پسر دانشجو در پارتی های دانشگاه مست می کنن و پسر به دختر نیمه بیهوش روی زمین تعرض می کنه. گلدول چی میگه؟ الکل باعث میشه که ارتباط بین دو فرد مشکل بشه و درست منظور هم رو درک نکن، نه بابا!
درسته که فرد نباید خودش رو توی موقعیت های خطرزا قرار بده، ولی هیچوقت تجاوز رو نمیشه با شرایط توجیه کرد، هیچوقت

٣. منابع و پژوهش های نامعتبر
این یکی رو با خوندن تعداد زیادی ریویو متوجه شدم. اعداد و ارقام در مواردی پایه محکمی ندارند و پژوهش های ذکر شده ظاهرا گاهی خیلی موثق نیستند. اینکه تا چه حد اینجوریه واقعا نمی دونم

کتاب صوتی
واقعا کار گلدول برای تهیه نسخه صوتی عالی بوده. کتاب کاملا مثل یک پادکست جلو میره و مصاحبه با افراد مختلف پخش میشه. به نظرم از اول هم اگه اطلاعات این کتاب رو تبدیل به بیست اپیزود پادکست می کرد، مدیوم منطقی تری بود

من در مورد این کتاب از پنج ستاره که حس لحظه اول بود، با خواندن ریویوها و فکر کردن زیاد در موردش به سه ستاره رسیدم. درسته که دارم بهش این امتیاز رو میدم، ولی هم در پروسه خواندنش و هم در پروسه سر در آوردن ازش انقدر یاد گرفتم که برام از لحاظ تجربه مطالعاتی پنج ستاره بود

همچنان دوست دارم با هرکی که خواندش راجع بهش صحبت کنم و دید آدم های مختلف رو راجع به این کتاب بدونم

بعضی از مقاله ها و ریویوهایی که خواندم
1. The guardian: Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell review – fascinating study of why we misread those we don’t know
2. The guardian: Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell review – puzzled by banalities
3. The Atlantic: Malcolm Gladwell Reaches His Tipping Point
With ‘Talking to Strangers,’ Malcolm Gladwell Goes Dark
4. The wall street journal: Talking to Strangers’ Review: Fool Me Once, Shame on Mek

کتاب و صوتیش رو هم مثل همیشه اینجا گذاشتم
Audiobooks are awesome

الان با این کتاب چیکار کنم آخه؟
انقدر خوشم اومد که دو روزه همش رو گوش دادم و اومدم یک ریویو کامل و مثبت براش بنویسم، طبق عادت رفتم سراغ نقدهاش و حالا مغزم داره منفجر می شه و نمی دونم راجع بهش چی فکر کنم. دلم می خواد یکی اینو بخونه بشینیم راجع بهش بحث کنیم

از اون کتاب ها میشه که برای ریویو نوشتن باید بیشتر از خوندن خود کتاب وقت بگذارم
فعلا این ریویو اینجا باشه تا من ببینم با این کتاب چند چندم

Profile Image for Robin Bonne.
632 reviews141 followers
July 27, 2021
Clearly the author has never been sexually assaulted.
If you find reading graphic descriptions of rape and pedophelia upsetting, this isn’t a book you’ll enjoy.

The author is dismissive of rape victims. He concludes that the people who protect predators and disbelieve rape victims are “defaulting to truth.” There were several times he defends the people who protected pedophiles like Jerry Sandusky and Nassar. This section of the book was horribly disgusting. His “default truth” in this case means disbelieving victims. This book honestly made me question whether or not the author is a rapist who has sexually assaulted drunk people in his past. Why else would he be motivated to write something like this?
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,650 followers
September 14, 2019
What to say about Gladwell? I read everything he writes and I listen to his podcasts. Even as I cringe when he oversells his simplistic theories and misinterprets academic data to fit into cute stories. There are a lot of great stories in this book and some new takes on old ones, but at the end of the day the lens through which he demands we see these stories (i.e. our "default to truth" in talking to strangers) doesn't work. Sandra Bland's exchange with the officer did not result in her death because we aren't good at talking to strangers. Neither did Brock Turner's raping the Stanford woman nor Sandusky, etc. I get that these stories are all complicated. I think everyone gets that it's complicated and that there are two sides to these stories, but I don't think this telling is all that helpful in understanding these intricacies. In fact, it seems to trivialize them. Still, I don't think the book is bad. He's an excellent writer and storyteller and there are two few good writers these days so I will read all of them if I can--even without buying what they're selling.
Profile Image for Blaine.
782 reviews653 followers
May 23, 2021
We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. We would never do that to ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the stranger is easy. If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy.
Talking to Strangers is a book with a bold premise: trying to explain why a young black woman named Sandra Bland was pulled over for a minor traffic violation in rural Texas, arrested and jailed, and why she committed suicide in her cell three days later. As with his other books, Mr. Gladwell attempts this explanation through an exploration of psychological and social science research.

The paradox of talking to strangers is that need to talk to them, but we’re terrible at it. We instinctively have a “default to truth” operating assumption that the people we are dealing with are honest. We fall out of that truth default mode only when our doubts and misgivings rise to the point where we can no longer explain them away. This default is allows the efficient communication required by our society, but it places us at risk of occasionally being grossly deceived by the likes of a Jerry Sandusky or a Larry Nassar.

We believe in transparency—the idea that “the way a stranger looks and acts is a reliable clue to the way they feel”—and we tend to judge people’s honesty based on their demeanor. Well-spoken, confident people with a firm handshake, those who are friendly and engaging, are seen as believable. Nervous, shifty, stammering, uncomfortable people who give windy, convoluted explanations are not seen as believable. While people—including professional investigators—are good at judging the credibility of those whose honesty and demeanor match, people are terrible at judging the credibility of the confident liar or the nervous truth teller, which is how you end up with Amanda Knox spending years in an Italian prison despite no evidence linking her to the crime.

Finally, we also fail to appreciate the context in which the stranger is operating. Suicide rates are coupled to ease of availability. If you take away an easy way, as Britain did when they changed the type of gas used in the mid-20th century, the rate drops. People do not simply kill themselves another way. Similarly, if you patrol a high-crime city block, the crime rate drops rather than simply relocating a few block away. When you confront a stranger, you have to consider where and when you are confronting them, because those two things powerfully influence your interpretation of them.

It’s all very interesting, but does Mr. Gladwell succeed in explaining the Sandra Bland tragedy? I don’t think so, not fully anyway, though I was persuaded about some aspects of it perhaps, such as why the officer pulled her over in the first place. And while the chapter on alcohol’s potential role in misunderstanding strangers was believable ata an abstract level, I was not persuaded by his waaaaaay too charitable take on Brock Turner. Still, Talking to Strangers is another thought-provoking ride by Mr. Gladwell. Recommended.
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books962 followers
September 7, 2022
A great book to make you feel smart. Gladwell digs deep into high profile scandals throughout recent history and bases his observations on what must be extensive research. Yet it doesn't read like "research" it reads like a mystery that needs to be solved. Unfortunately, as is often the case with research, the more you know, the further away answers appear to be. We watch the news and think how open-and-shut a murder case might be, not realizing how vastly complicated things are from a socio-cultural perspective.

The central mystery Gladwell aims to solve is what exactly created the fuel for a combative encounter between a Texas police officer and Sandra Bland, and her subsequent suicide. To fully analyze this traffic stop gone awry, Gladwell takes us back to WWII Germany, Bernie Madoff's crimes, the trial of Amanda Knox, and even the suicide of Sylvia Plath, among other examples. In the end, he returns briefly to Sandra Bland with what appears to be the hope that you'll draw your own conclusions.

A central strength of the book is Gladwell's ability to identify the root of problems. This is certainly a good first step. When he proposes solutions, however, they are much more vague. That's not necessarily his job as a researcher, however. I think the government and other leaders can learn a lot from his findings and develop solutions around them.

In the end, I feel like I know more about the world around me, but also feel just as helpless as I was before. If there is one takeaway that will stick with me, however, it is knowing that situations are almost always more complicated than they appear on television. This may not seem like much, but in a world where we base entire beliefs on TikTok videos and cable news personalities, it's a good skill to have. For that alone, this book gets a solid recommendation from me.

PS: The audiobook is highly recommended for this one. Not only does Gladwell give a great reading of his work, but he incorporates actual soundbites from the figures he quotes. Quite the immersive experience!
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 7 books1,212 followers
August 30, 2019
What I love about Gladwell's books is the thing that I think many people find frustrating: I don't agree with everything he says. But what brings me back is that he finds interesting threads and premises and manages to weave them together in such a way that it makes me think about my own beliefs a little different.

This book begins with the Sandra Bland case. Why did she die? Why did this situation even occur? It then goes into looking at a series of incidents of the CIA overlooking spies from Cuba who embedded themselves in US operations and how because, as humans, we default to truth, we are really bad at sniffing out those who are deceiving us. This is the case even for the most highly trained.

A few people, however, don't default this way. And this is precisely why Bernie Madoff played such a ponzi scheme -- one person who spoke up and out because things didn't feel right was made to feel as though he was overreacting. That no way could someone like Madoff, who looked too good to be involved in something like that, be a master criminal.

Gladwell then takes us to the Amanda Knox case and explores why it is she was believed to be a key suspect in the death of her roommate. The answer is that Knox's behavior doesn't align with how people think it ought to be in the midst of a crisis and grief. She's goofy by nature, and her actions after such a crime didn't fit with the model people have of how she should act. So, they read her behaviors as signs of guilt, rather than considering that, perhaps, she acted the way she always did.

The Brock Turner rape case is explored, too, and it's looked at not from the perspective of rape culture and toxic masculinity -- the narrative we all know and agree with because those aren't incorrect -- but rather, it's looked at from the point of alcohol and how it inhibits cognitive function. This was the case both for the victim and for Turner, making it impossible for a truthful account of what happened that night. There's no rape apologizing here; instead, it's a look at the context of the case that makes piecing it together challenging. This is coupling: alcohol was linked here.

So what of the Bland case then?

Gladwell talks about research done in academia about crime and how context matters there. "Dangerous" places often aren't. The problem is almost always isolated to a tiny portion of a place, like a few blocks in a city. This understanding led to Kansas City trying out a new method of policing, being highly concentrated in the worst areas in order to decrease crime.

It worked.

Why? People were willing to give up some of their privacy for the safe of their safety. They live in an area with high crime and significant drug use and gun violence, a visit from the police didn't bother them knowing that it had a direct effect on their environment.

The problem was when that tactic was used outside the context. This was what Gladwell links together for the Sandra Bland story. A police officer, trained in the Kansas City method, removed the context from the situation. He also leaned heavily into not defaulting to truth. Bland? Her behavior didn't conform to the ideas of how someone "should" behave in the situation. The same pieces of the puzzle -- the coupling, the lack of context -- allows the Kansas City policing method to default to fault, as opposed to truth, too easily. See what happens in Ferguson (and not just the Michael Brown case, but in additional cases of unnecessary policing of a community).

It's a really interesting premise and one that makes a good bit of sense. What Gladwell doesn't do, though, is address sexism here. He does touch on race -- especially about how black communities are already over policed -- but gender doesn't come into it quite enough. I wish we'd seen that layer here, especially as it tied into the Knox case AND how to relates back to the Bland case.

Overall, it's one that will make me think a lot more about interactions with strangers, both those I have and those I don't. It's fascinating to think about how this might, too, connect with social media and how we do/don't connect with other people who are strangers to us. Rather than default to truth, it seems that in places like Twitter, we've come too quick to ignore the context, ignore the coupling effect, and we quickly default to anywhere but the truth. Something to really chew on, and surprisingly connected to the powerful first essay about Twitter in Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion.

Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
498 reviews849 followers
April 23, 2023
If I'm earning an MFA in Creative Writing from YouTube University (as well as streaming platforms like MasterClass), then Malcolm Gladwell is one of my professors. The New Yorker staff writer never ceases to teach me something mind-blowing about storytelling. Published in 2019, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know is the first of Gladwell's non-fiction books that I've read. It focuses on the interactions and assumptions we make when dealing with strangers.

Gladwell closes the book with an examination of the events that led to the suicide of Sandra Bland in 2015, three days after being arrested in Prairie View, Texas for a traffic violation. He also delves into the blunders and miscues that led to Adolph Hitler, Cuban spy Ana Montes, Ponzi scheme scammer Bernie Madoff, gymnastics coach Larry Nassar and football coach Jerry Sandusky winning trust while committing historically terrible acts of abuse or subterfuge despite sounding all sorts of warning bells.

-- Winston Churchill, for example, never believed for a moment that Hitler was anything more than a duplicitous thug. Churchill called Chamberlain's visit "the stupidest thing that has ever been done." But Hitler was someone he'd only ever read about. Duff Cooper, one of Chamberlain's cabinet ministers, was equally clear-eyed. He listened with horror to Chamberlain's account of his meeting with Hitler. Later, he would resign from Chamberlain's government in protest. Did Cooper know Hitler? No. The people who were right about Hitler were those who knew the least about him personally. The people who were wrong about Hitler were the ones who had talked with him for hours.

-- A few years ago, a team of psychologists led by Emily Pronin gave a group of people the same exercise. Pronin had them fill in the blank spaces. Then she asked them the same question: What do you think your choices say about you? For instance, if you completed TOU_ _ as TOUCH, does that suggest that you are a different kind of person than if you completed it as TOUGH? The respondents took the same position I did. They're just words.

But then things got interesting. Pronin gave the group other people's words. These were perfect strangers. She asked the same question. What do you think this stranger's choices reveal? And this time Pronin's panel completely changed their minds.

"He doesn't seem to read too much, since the natural (to me) completion of B_ _K would be BOOK. BEAK seems rather random, and might indicate deliberate unfocus of mind."

Keep in mind that these are the exact same people who just moments before had denied that the exercise had any meaning at all.

The same person who said, "These word completions don't seem to reveal much about me at all" turned around and said, of a perfect stranger:

"I think this girl is on her period....I also think that she either feels she or someone else is in a dishonest sexual relationship, according to the words WHORE, SLOT (similar to SLUT), CHEAT."

The answers go on and on like this. And no one seemed even remotely aware that they had been trapped in a contradiction.

-- Ana Montes wasn't a master spy. She didn't need to be. In a world were our lie detector is set to the "off" position, a spy is always going to have an easy time of it. And was Scott Carmichael somehow negligent? Not at all. He did what Truth Default Theory would predict any of us would do: he operated from the assumption that Ana Montes was telling the truth, and--almost without realizing it--worked to square everything she said with that assumption. We need a trigger to snap out of the default to truth, but the threshold for triggers is high. Carmichael was nowhere near that point.

In the movies, the brilliant detective confronts the subject and catches him, right then and there, in a lie. But in real life, accumulating the amount of evidence necessary to overwhelm our doubts takes time. You ask your husband if he is having an affair, and he says no, and you believe him. Your default is that he is telling the truth. And whatever little inconsistencies you spot in his story, you explain away. But three months later you happen to notice an unusual hotel charge on his credit card bill, and the combination of that and the weeks of unexplained absences and mysterious phone calls pushes you over the top. That's how lies are detected.

-- To Encinia's mind, Bland's demeanor fits the profile of a potentially dangerous criminal. She's agitated, jumpy, irritable, confrontational, volatile. He thinks she's hiding something.

This is dangerously flawed thinking at the best of times. Human beings are not transparent. But when is this kind of thinking most dangerous? When the people we observe are mismatched; when they do not behave the way we expect them to behave. Amanda Knox was mismatched. At the crime scene, as she put on her protective booties, she swiveled her hips and said, "Ta-dah." Bernie Madoff was mismatched. He was a sociopath dressed up as a mensch.

What is Sandra Bland? She is also
mismatched. She looks to Encinia's eye like a criminal. But she's not. She's just upset. In the aftermath of her death, it was revealed that she had ten previous encounters with police over the course of her adult life, including five traffic stops, which had left her with almost $8,000 in outstanding fines. She had tried to commit suicide the year before, after the loss of a baby. She had numerous cut marks running up and down her arms.

So here's a troubled person with a history of medical and psychiatric issues, trying to pull her life together. She's moved to a new town. She's starting a new life. And just when she arrives to begin this new chapter in her life, she's pulled over by a police officer--repeating a scenario that has left her deeply in debt. And for what? For failing to signal a lane change when a police car is driving up rapidly behind her. All of a sudden her fragile new beginning is cast into doubt. In the three days she spent in jail before taking her own life, Sandra Bland was distraught, weeping constantly, making phone call after phone call. She was in crisis.

But Encinia, with all the false confidence that believing in transparency gives us, reads her emotionality and volatility as something sinister.

Talking to Strangers is not about how to spot a liar or predator. Gladwell cites that judges, police detectives and federal agents are able to detect a lie no better than 50% of the time, a coin flip. Gladwell's thesis is that society can only function when we trust in each other, as opposed to assuming deceit is lurking around every corner. In instances where that trust is violated, those who made nothing of the signs were being human. Gladwell's storytelling is second-to-none. I'm not an audiobook consumer but this would be an excellent one, following the structure of Gladwell's podcast Revisionist History and including the original audio files in the Bland incident.
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1,301 reviews22k followers
December 15, 2019
I haven’t been all that impressed by the last few books Gladwell has written and wasn’t even going to read this one at all – but then a friend at work said it related to some of the things I’ve been working on at the moment, and so I got hold of it – and I’m glad I did. In some ways this book could be summed up by saying that we are programmed to trust and believe people and that rather than needing to suspend disbelief, people often have to work very hard to lose our trust. For instance, American spies seem to have a remarkable soft-spot for Cuban spies – with US spies seemingly incapable of ever detecting Cuban ones. I never know what to make of the CIA (and all the other various three-letter-agencies). I’ve read The Legacy of Ashes and the Blowback series, and I didn’t particularly come away from reading those with a particularly high estimations of the abilities of US spies. That said, perhaps they are in fact infinitely more clever than they seem – well, they would have to be, wouldn’t they? And so these books saying they are all gormless is part of some elaborate double blind exercise to put us off our guard.

Part of this details the torture techniques so gleefully adopted by the US in its war on terror, and so I had flashbacks to reading The Shock Doctrine. I find the whole idea of torture unspeakable. The US has much to answer for, but since it is the sole superpower, I guess we can’t expect it to answer for any of its crimes against humanity any time soon. Once again it was pretty clear that none of the information obtained under torture was in the least bit reliable – and not just because you might lie to get the torture to end, but also because memory is fragile and after torture the victim might even believe (really believe) they were George Washington if you electrocuted them enough.

Part of the problem I had with this book is that ‘strangers’ isn’t ever quite defined – and so the strangers often ended up being people quite like you and me. Although it discusses some of the black lives matter incidents, that is, where strangers were decidedly not treated with an excess of trust, what is somewhat ignored is the problem of the strangers who are like the children in Yemen – think back to the last time you read about that war for a moment. Hard to remember, isn’t it? Yet, it has been on the brink of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises for the last couple of years – and western governments are not only aiding the atrocities being carried out there, but also supplying arms and advice that is making matters a million times worse. Here are the real strangers. Like the strangers we send drones to blow to pieces. It all becomes like a hyper-real video game, the death of these strangers barely rates a shrug from us. There is, of course, money to be made in killing these desperately poor people, and this in a world where you could probably buy three or four dozen of them as effective slaves for less than the price of the drone we use to killed two or three of them.

But strangers at a distance are not the concern of this book. The strangers considered here are also not quite the strangers Simmel talks of – those who do not quite belong amongst us, but who arrive, and have not yet left. This would have made an interesting book too – particularly given the ‘Build The Wall’ hysteria in the US that elected a madman to its highest office and the ‘Stop the Boats’ chants in Australia that has won a couple of elections, or the ‘Turks are coming’ that decided Brexit. These strangers, the kind that might end up separated from their children in cages at the border, or who commit suicide on an island north of Australian somewhere (at least they didn’t drown) are also mostly left faceless and are certainly not people we treat with an excess of trust.

All the same, this book is interesting and it is worth knowing how we behave with strangers who are more like us. The best bits of this book were the bits where he adds in the complications of life. Far too often we assume that stories of the rape of children, for example, are simple and that if someone has been doing this for a long time, and they haven’t been immediately caught, there had to have been an elaborate coverup. But it is not just that we delay believing people could possibly do such things beyond the point where this becomes at all reasonable (something I think that is almost certainly true) but also that we also doubt our own sanity when confronted with ‘evidence’ that seems to imply sport’s coaches or Cardinals could possibly do such things – even when that evidence comes from our own eyes.

A dear friend of mine posted on Facebook recently an elaborate telephone scam she was nearly the victim of that was designed to get her to transfer money out of her account and into someone else’s. What was remarkable about this was how professional the whole thing was and how patient the scammers were. We are pre-programmed to trust people, and that isn’t a bad thing. As Gladwell makes clear with a couple of counter-examples in this book, where people end up distrusting everyone, and how their lives quickly become unliveable. As Socrates said, it is better to suffer an injury than to cause one – obviously, he meant that in terms of our souls – and I think this proves just as true today.

What is particularly interesting about this book is the notion that most of what happens in the world is ‘contextual’. There is a long discussion of campus rape cases and the problems that excessive drinking can cause, not merely since people end up diminished memories of what happened, even if not diminished responsibility for what happened. But this is then compared with other cultures were excessive drinking does not lead to rape or violence.

Similarly, the case of Silvia Plath is discussed and whether she would have committed suicide in some other way if town gas had been replaced with natural gas sooner. We often think suicide is something that you would only do after some serious consideration, that it is the ultimate in elaborate and decisive decision making – but often the opposite can be the case. Rather than being elaborately planned, often people who attempt suicide and who fortuitously live after the attempt say that what actually happened was that the opportunity presented itself and they aren’t all that sure why, but they took that opportunity. We humans are deeply strange, much more so than we generally give ourselves credit for. Like so much else in life, we often act first and provide a reasonable sounding motive later.

The bit of this that is probably worth the cover price of the book is the discussion of the word puzzle thing close to the start. People are given some words with some of the letters replaced with blanks and they have to fill those blanks to make actual words. The finished words might end up being ‘cheat, scare, trap’ stuff like that. But then the shrink giving the task asks, ‘so, what do you reckon that list of words says about you? It doesn’t seem terribly flattering.’ To which you are likely to reply, ‘well, I think it says nothing about me, it’s just the literary equivalent of a jigsaw puzzle.’ So far, all well and good. Except, when you show people photos of other people and then tell them how these others filled in the blanks – and the words they came up with – they have no trouble at all at being able to identify the psychological issues these people clearly suffer from given the words they generated. This is, of course, a long standing finding and is just one instance of an all-too-human set of conclusions we find ourselves jumping to – even after having just explained why the same thing couldn’t possibly apply to our-good-selves. We can’t help ourselves in finding that people like us are infinitely complex and must be understood from within that complexity – while people who are not like us are simple and behave in accordance to the stereotypes we hold of them.

This is interesting book, although, clearly with the provisos I’ve mentioned about what a stranger might look like.
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