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A Best Book of the Year: The Financial Times, Bloomberg, Chicago Tribune, and Detroit Free Pres
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 television sitcoms teach us something about the way we relate to each other that isn't true?
While tackling these questions, Malcolm Gladwell was not solely writing a book for the page. He was also producing for the ear. In the audiobook version of Talking to Strangers, you'll hear the voices of people he interviewed--scientists, criminologists, military psychologists. Court transcripts are brought to life with re-enactments. You actually hear the contentious arrest of Sandra Bland by the side of the road in Texas. As Gladwell revisits the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, and the suicide of Sylvia Plath, you hear directly from many of the players in these real-life tragedies. There's even a theme song - Janelle Monae's "Hell You Talmbout."
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 this thoughtful treatise spurred by the 2015 death of African-American academic Sandra Bland in jail after a traffic stop, New Yorker writer Gladwell (The Tipping Point) aims to figure out the strategies people use to assess strangers to "analyze , critique them, figure out where they came from, figure out how to fix them," in other words: to understand how to balance trust and safety. He uses a variety of examples from history and recent headlines to illustrate that people size up the motivations, emotions, and trustworthiness of those they don't know both wrongly and with misplaced confidence. He relates, for example, the story of a whole cadre of American spies in Cuba who were carefully handpicked by American intelligence operatives, all of whom turned out to be pro-Castro double agents. Gladwell writes in his signature colorful, fluid, and accessible prose, though he occasionally fails to make fully clear the connection between a seemingly tangential topic such as suicide risk and the book's main questions. In addition to providing an analysis of human mental habits and interactions, Gladwell pleas for more thoughtful ways of behaving and advocates for people to embrace trust, rather than defaulting to distrust, and not to "blame the stranger." Readers will find this both fascinating and topical.