Talking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

What we should know about the people we don’t know… says the tagline of this book. I love books that open up ideas and understanding, and give you a paradigm shift. I think Malcolm Gladwell often does this for us with his dives into different areas of sociology and other… Well – ologies. I know reading his book Outliers was like that for me, expanding my thinking.

In this book, going through a series of high profile cases or events, Gladwell looks into the context surrounding them to bring us a more full understanding of them and demonstrating the way we process our beliefs about the strangers around us, and why that understanding is so misleading. He talks about Amanda Knox, the arrest of Sandra Bland, how Fidel Castro duped the CIA…. but most importantly, he shows us that we basically misunderstand fundamental concepts about each other.

I like the way that Malcolm Gladwell explores things. You learn so much as you go along, and yet he’s never dry or boring. His books are so well researched and flow so well, he dives right into things and is really thorough, showing us our own world with a better understanding of it.

In this book we learn that we have a kind of threshhold where we assume that people are honest as a rule and therefore overlook lies until they reach a critical mass. We learn that generally, we have about a 50/50 chance of telling if someone is lying, and that that statistic holds amongst law enforcement. And that we have notions about what emotions someone should display, but that we assume the worst about people who don’t act those ways. I devoured all this. This kind of thing interests me so much, and I was really looking forward to reading this book. I was not disappointed. There’s this and loads more in Talking To Strangers.

Whilst I think that Gladwell is very down to earth, generally unbiased and thorough in his understanding and research, I found it odd that there was what I felt was an omission. He does not apply his research to predator behaviour precisely. For example, he talks about how we can misjudge another, how others can misjudge us and our intentions, but it seems the obvious application of this knowledge would be to people who manage to dupe others and who are an immediate threat. He has a pedophile and a rapist and a convicted murderer as cases, but he looks at them through a lens of them being misunderstood, misrepresented and sometimes kinda predatory, but I hoped to see this applied in a further chapter to psychopaths like maybe Ted Bundy. You can definitely extrapolate from what you learn in this book as to how he could pass as a nice guy and how his friends were shocked that he was a serial killer. For sure. But I’d like to hear Gladwells exploration of that psychology, and his application. I mean, you don’t have to go as far as talking about such extreme cases as serial killing, but the minds of the narcissistic personality and the psychopath or sociopath are particularly interesting in regards to them as a stranger you may well come across. Perhaps that was too in depth for the scope of this book.

All of that said, I really did enjoy reading this, and devoured it whole in 2 days. I feel like I learned a lot, and actually looked at some events in my own life in a different light, which is great. So I do recommend it. But I do feel that this book has some problems that it’s not addressing too, maybe because they are too incendiary, maybe because the author feels that they are not valid. I don’t know. It tries to be really fair and not talk about issues like race and gender relations too much, but doing that, it’s perhaps not indepth enough and could have covered more.

Read It If: you’ve ever had that moment where you look back and wonder why you didn’t trust your gut about someone…. a fascinating and well researched book that will make you see the world more clearly, perhaps, even while it doesn’t address every issue about talking to strangers.

Thank you to HBG Canada for sending me this book for review. All opinions are my own and honest.

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