Book Review — Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

This evening, I finished Malcolm Gladwell’s “Talking to Strangers — What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know”. Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian journalist who is known as the best-selling author of Outliers.

The book describes in detail the mistakes we make when we interact with people we are not familiar with.

In stories after stories using tons of research materials, Gladwell challenges the reader to disregard previous notions of how we think the world works.

Why was it that almost every world leader who interacted with Adolf Hitler believed he was not interested in waging a war? The Canadian Prime Minister was so impressed with his peace-loving posture that he compared Hitler to Joan of Arc. No, it’s not because Hitler had great deceptive abilities. It’s because there is something fundamental about humans defaulting to truth. You won’t really know what this means until you read the book.

How is that parents are often the chief defenders of doctors (or teachers or pastors, etc.) who molest their children? Bystanders often look for conspiracies behind the silence. However, Gladwell makes the reader understand that the parents do exactly what they do because that is how human beings are wired; favoring the most likely interpretation of events.

You may be surprised to know that computers do a much better job than judges in making decisions. In fact, what we would typically think would aid judges such has looking at the posture and eye movements of defendants end up working against the judges. Evidence show that judges would make better decisions without seeing defendants. Why? Because strangers don’t always fit our descriptions of who they should be. Surprised people don’t necessarily look surprised. People who have emotional problems don’t always look like they have emotional problems. That’s disturbing. It’s distressing. It’s unclear the world is ready to accept this evidence.

#DoYouKnow that airport authorities often slip a gun or a fake bomb into a piece of luggage for audits and 95% of the time the guns and bombs go undetected?

No, it’s not because airport officials are lazy. We have seen CIA officers who cannot make sense of their spies, judges who cannot make sense of their defendants, and prime ministers who cannot make sense of their adversaries. We have people struggling with their first impressions of a stranger. We have people struggling when they have months to understand a stranger. We have people struggling when they meet with someone only once, and people struggling when they return to the stranger again and again. They struggle with assessing a stranger’s honesty. They struggle with a stranger’s character. They struggle with a stranger’s intent.

And if while we are in our best states we are deceived, what happens when we added alcohol to the equation? What do we expect when strangers, male and female are blind drunk and are therefore at the mercy of their environment? It’s ironic that students(and people in general) believe that it is good idea to be trained in self-defense, and not such a good idea to clamp down on drinking. But what good is knowing the techniques of self-defense if you’re blind drunk? Students think it’s a really good idea if men respect women more. But the issue is not how men behave around women when they are sober. It is how they behave around women when they are drunk.

One of the perturbing stories in the book shows how a misread of the evidence became responsible for the spate of aggressive policing America was plunged into from the 1970s. You will truly feel sorry for those, especially blacks, who are at the receiving end of this time of policing which was supposed to be confined to places where crime is truly concentrated. In unique Gladwell style, the reader is empowered to challenge the notion that racial profiling and blatant racism is responsible for the ‘unfriendly’ policies Americans have become used to, using the story of Sandra Bland as a case in point.

In a truly remarkable version, the author offers a way to save more than 10,000 American lives annually from suicide using the proven concept of coupling. It’s an outstanding concept.

Reading this book will change how you see yourself and others. More importantly, it will make you humble. It is an intellectually stimulating book.

Malcolm Gladwell delivered!



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