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

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  134,007 ratings  ·  13,207 reviews
Malcolm Gladwell, host of the podcast Revisionist History and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Outliers, offers a powerful examination of our interactions with strangers -- and why they often go wrong.

How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Why are campus sexual assaults on the rise? Do te
Hardcover, 388 pages
Published September 10th 2019 by Little, Brown and Company
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Cathy Traugott I agree with Pinker. There were a lot of holes in the theory. The themes were simplified to the point of being rather absurd. He has some interesting …moreI agree with Pinker. There were a lot of holes in the theory. The themes were simplified to the point of being rather absurd. He has some interesting anecdotal ideas that are good food for thought but it misses when trying to change those into an overarching theory. (less)
Cindy Schneider Malcolm Gladwell has a gift for taking the seemingly mundane, or invisible, and showing us the major influence it has in our lives.

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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
Emily May
Sep 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2019
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 “misu
Oct 26, 2019 rated it did not like it
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 a
Sep 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: canadian, sociology
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 rang
UPDATE 9/23/19
I have now changed this to one star. The more I read about this and other pseudo psych crap he 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
Apr 03, 2020 rated it it was ok
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, ...more
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: netgalley
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 ha
Sep 21, 2019 rated it did not like it
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 situa
Sep 20, 2019 rated it did not like it
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
Gretchen Rubin
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.
Elyse  Walters
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 12, 2019 marked it as don-t-count
Shelves: do-not-be-misled
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:

Leftbanker's thoughtful comments on the Sandra Bland case:

Guardian's review on the obviousness of Gladwell's talking points and race-blind approach:

Atlantic's review on the lack of thesis:

Sep 21, 2019 rated it did not like it
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
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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, w ...more
Sep 19, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 res
Traci at The Stacks
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. Gla ...more
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 C
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 b ...more
Jul 05, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways
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 c
Dec 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
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, Americ ...more
May 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-clubs
I never would have picked up this book if it hadn’t been a book club selection.
So, Gladwell starts off by saying we are horribly bad at sussing out liars from our face to face interactions. Of course, my initial thought was that explains why Trump loves Putin and Kim Jong Un.
Gladwell’s basic premise is that humans have a default setting to believe others and in order to believe someone is lying there has to be a lot of unexplainable circumstances. So, while it’s easy to think you’d never fall
Aug 23, 2020 rated it it was ok
Gladwell writes this like he has A.D.D. He's all over the place, an historian trying to be entertaining? Perhaps, but I prefer a more cohesive approach. Much of the book is based on the theory that most people default to seeing the best in others and are unable to see the bad. And in other cases, they think someone is guilty simply because their personality is off in some way. This theory fits in best with the Amanda Knox case (clearly innocent) but he tries to fit it in with the cases of Jerry ...more
Jul 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-psychology
I'm glad that those nice people at Goodreads chose me randomly to receive an old-school paper copy of this book, free of charge. It will be a novel feeling to actually have read a controversial book before it hits the shelves and generates the predictably shallow hot takes in the few moments before the world's attention moves onto something else.

Perhaps I'm engaging in a display of unwarranted optimism to think that a mere book can have an effect on the way people think, but this is what Talking
Dec 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
This is a wonderful book about major issues when talking to people. I thought, initially, that the book would be about everyday conversations during everyday interactions. Not at all. The book is really about the assumptions that we make about other people, and how those assumptions can be drastically wrong. It is about belief systems, and how we react when we encounter evidence that is contrary to those beliefs. Malcolm Gladwell took me into worlds that I had never even considered.

The main poin
Apr 27, 2020 rated it liked it
This is another fascinating book by Malcolm Gladwell, who likes to group a variety of topics under one overarching theme. This writing strategy is a clever one, because it basically guarantees there will be at least one or two case studies you'll find interesting.

I read this book back in April, and even then I was drawn to Gladwell's discussion of police tactics, and how law enforcement disproportionately targets black people in America. Gladwell opens his book with the case of Sandra Bland, a b
Robin Bonne
Nov 22, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
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 disbelief 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
Matthew Quann
Dec 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
My wife and I listened to this audiobook on two drives separated by about four months. I'm an IMMENSE fan of Gladwell's Revisionist History podcast (seriously, give it a listen) and was pretty jazzed to hear that he had decided to take a podcast-like approach for this book. So, instead of Gladwell's soothing voice at all times there's interviews, court readings, etc. It doesn't always work as well as the podcast does--I wish there were more of Gladwell in conversation with his subjects, he's a c ...more
Peter Tillman
Sep 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Off to a rousing start, and written to Gladwell's usual high standards. He does his homework, and surprises us at many turns. The Nature review that follows is full & fair. I doubt that I will find anything substantial to add. But I didn't end up liking the book as much as I expected. 3.5 stars, rounded down for the wandering and discursive narrative, and the inconclusive & disappointing ending.

So: read Nature's review first, and if you are intrigued, and especially if you have liked Gladwell's
David Wineberg
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Malcolm Gladwell’s latest foray into human folly is its seemingly innate trust in strangers. We assume strangers are transparent, and can take what they do and say at face value. Sometimes we are wrong, but assuming everyone is evil is far worse. Talking To Strangers focuses (mostly) on a number of very high profile criminal cases we are all likely to be familiar with. They include the Amanda Knox case, the Jerry Sandusky case, the Brock Turner case, the Sandra Bland case, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, ...more
Tanja Berg
Nov 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I started reading this book right after I had managed a social gaffe - or so I thought. After I separated from my husband this summer, I started dancing swing. Not to look for anything, but to get out of the house and learn something new. Most of the people at the course were in pairs or retirees. Except a boy in his 30’s. We started talking and we started going to the dance evenings on Wednesdays in addition to the Monday classes. I would dance with others, but he would only dance with me. So I ...more
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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 musici ...more

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