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Reviewing Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers

Talking to Strangers is the third of Malcolm Gladwell’s books that I have read (the other two are Outliers and The Tipping Point), and I can say wholeheartedly that this is his most important work….at least out of the 3 books I read. The book starts off with an analysis of the Sandra Bland case, where Bland is pulled over by a police officer after failure to use a turn signal and ends up dead a few days later in a jail cell. Gladwell uses this case to introduce the idea that human beings in general are terrible in interactions with strangers. Throughout the book, he uses several high-profile cases (e.g. Jerry Sandusky, Amanda Knox, Brock Turner) to highlight how better understandings of how to talk to strangers in many instances could have saved money, time, and ultimately lives. Although I am not a big fan of Gladwell’s heavy use of anecdotal evidence, I believe the lessons in this book are of critical importance to anyone seeking harmony within the current social climate.

To me, talking to strangers doesn’t mean just learning how to make conversation with people I meet at conferences or work events, it means learning how to understand that I have biases, that sometimes these biases may overtake my judgements, and that I need to learn how to more objectively understand people. A few weeks ago, I was driving on an exit ramp off a highway in the early evening with my girlfriend in the front seat. As I approached a traffic light at the end of the exit ramp, a man with a backpack was crossing the street and yelled something at me while pointing at the car in front of me at the traffic light. My immediate thoughts were that this dude was crazy and to dismiss whatever he was saying. It turns out that the car in front of me was broken down and not moving, and the “crazy” man was just trying to tell me that. This man was just crossing the street, and trying to help me, yet I convicted him as a crazy loon in Lova’s court of human judgement. I consider myself a good person, and I try to always see the good in people, yet in this moment, I was a complete jabroni. Gladwell’s overall message in this book is that we all can be complete jabronis at times, including police officers, doctors, CIA agents, lawyers, and judges.

The book is easy to read, and although it is a bit longer than his other books (346 pages), Gladwell kept my attention throughout the chapters. My favorite chapters were the chapters on Amanda Knox and Brock Turner, because Gladwell provides good perspectives and analyses on these cases with respect to misreading people and miscommunication, all while displaying his storytelling skills as he discusses the facts of the case. My not-so-favorite chapter is the chapter on Sylvia Plath’s suicide. I thought this chapter dragged on for too long, and Gladwell sort of just repeats the same point a few times here. All in all, it is a pleasant read.

Overall, I recommend this book to anyone and everyone who wants to gain a few perspectives on how we, as human beings, interact with those who are strangers to us. No matter who we are, doctors, lawyers, or prime ministers, we could all use a little perspective on how to better interact with our fellow human beings. Cheers!

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