Talking to Strangers? We’re Doing It Wrong

What happens when strangers meet? Ask Gladwell.

Malcolm Gladwell, King of the Footnotes, Podcast Revisionist, Master Intellectual.

The intelligentsia dismiss Gladwell for his sensible and straightforward writing. To hell with them. Gladwell’s newest,¬†Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, is another jewel in the master’s crown.

Talking to Strangers lets Gladwell break down what happens and what goes wrong when strangers meet. The answer? A lot.

Gladwell boils the primary factors down to three, which he labels as defaulting to truth, misunderstanding transparency, and coupling. I’ll leave it to the author to explain, but know this: Talking to Strangers is a fast-paced, enjoyable read.


In Gladwellian fashion, he uses various and varied narratives to explain the concepts that strangers get wrong about one another, starting and ending with the tragic Sandra Bland death as book ends. He eventually gets around to using such disparate figures as Adolf Hitler, Amanda Knox, Bernie Madoff, Jerry Sandusky, and Sylvia Plath as examples, not to mention some unknown judges and spies.

The book scrutinizes encounters that we have and how we constantly read each other incorrectly. It seems as though we’re all using the wrong methods to deduce our fellow man. It has led to disastrous effects. We lie in the midst of constant misreading of one another, and Gladwell offers the how, when, and why of it all.

Taking an argument and dividing it into anecdotes is nothing new, but those who’ve read Gladwell know the method. His books read more like a documentary film than any sort of scholarly endeavor. Perhaps that’s why academics tend to frown on him. As long as the message itself isn’t diluted, there’s nothing wrong with the delivery. And Gladwell makes his points in clear prose, readable for almost any level of thinker. His careful research fits well with his chunks of stories and develop into almost a whodunit style. Many chapters’ endings hinge on a “What happens next?” that’s perfect for the binge society we live in, yet still manage to delve into the big questions that hover about us concerning the psyche of the world at large.

If you’re too highbrow and frown on Gladwell, you’re only hurting yourself on your high horse. If you enjoy your research complied and examined in accessible writing, no one beats Gladwell.

All hail the king.


Talking to Strangers is currently available from Little, Brown and Company.

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