Talking to Strangers book cover

Talking to Strangers

I recently listened to Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell on Audible. Unfortunately, this is my least favorite Gladwell book so far. And actually, I don’t think I care for Gladwell that much. His work feels highly overrated, and his application of research to his chosen topics seems forced and on thin ground in some places.

Talking to Strangers is a weird mix of scientific research and experiments laid over sensational news headlines to explain how/why everyone “got it wrong.” Gladwell covers Jerry Sandusky, Larry Nassar, Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM), Brock Turner, and others. Then, he uses these to tie together a theory about police and what happened with Sandra Bland.

This book should come with some trigger warnings. Gladwell goes into graphic details of sexual assault, including cases involving children. These are mainly related to Sandusky and Nassar. I wasn’t expecting so much about sexual assault and abuse, and this came as an unwelcome surprise to me.

Here are the bits that stood out to me as interesting and that I would have enjoyed in a 30-minute TED Talk:

  • Humans are adapted to default to truth. This means we generally believe we are being told the truth, and it takes a lot to tip the balance. This behavior is essential for a functioning society but comes with a cost when people are untruthful.
  • Kansas City Police and their model of preventive patrol does work–but only when police officers are aggressively looking for crimes, physically present, and do not default to truth. This may be what has led to current police situations we’ve seen occurring all too often lately.
  • Suicide is often a coupled behavior, meaning it is tied to a method or location. Removal of access to the coupled method can prevent suicides. (He cites some research on suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning and the reduction in deaths when British “town gas” was replaced with natural gas, containing far less carbon monoxide.

And that’s it. I would probably not recommend this book to anyone.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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