Talking to Strangers

What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know

The author presents a rich (and sometimes disturbing) collection of stories, coupled with research, to help readers understand how we interpret the actions of people we do not know. This book is an especially important read for those working to forge conversations and collaboration across differences in our state.

400 pages. ©2019.
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Reader Reviews for this Book

Julia Marie

Review posted September 20, 2021


This book is extremely hard to review. The separate chapters focusing on stories of people and their lives and how others viewed and processed their actions was compelling and disturbing. The stories well researched, interesting, delivered in an informative way, were all very different but shared the same problems of us humans battling truth and communication. I enjoyed reading the book, shared it with a book club, had a great discussion but still not sure it aided my skills of talking to strangers. It was a head scratcher on just how hard it is to communicate and come to the “truth”. The book questioned our ability to be confident that our feelings and decisions about others is not colored by bias and our personalities pretty much all the time.


Review posted September 1, 2021


I loved the blend of storytelling/vignettes of popular culture and events, alongside statistical data, to reflect back how assumptions and biases creep into everyday interactions. Such a good read!


Review posted August 29, 2021


I've read several books by this author, but this one didn't impress me much. Some of the illustrative stories are neither evocative nor compelling to the point the author attempts to make: people are unable to tell whether a stranger is trustworthy.


Review posted August 26, 2021


Gladwell makes a very strong case for why we must, and naturally will, continue to default to believing that people with whom we communicate are truthful. He clearly demonstrates that , while there are nefarious people who will intentionally lie--some with nationally disastrous consequences--our relatively peaceful society could not exist if our default was to mostly distrust/disbelieve each other.

mona Staehr

Review posted August 10, 2021


Gladwell is always a good read. I enjoyed the information and explanation of how important it is to be able to communicate.


Review posted August 2, 2021


I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. It gives insight, and I think it is especially important given skills we need after the virus has distanced us in so many ways. A must read.


Review posted July 27, 2021


Malcolm Gladwell presents a compelling review of interactions that we often take for granted. Easy to read, this book will help you understand interactions and cause you to think about the forces that have brought each person to the position they are currently in.


Review posted July 26, 2021


Like all of Gladwell's books, the anecdotes, history and background information were compelling and interesting. As a thesis, I don't think there was a solid hypothesis on the elements that go into how we interact with strangers, but it was a solid jumping off point to consider other ideas of psychology, criminology and communication.

Vicki L Gale

Review posted July 22, 2021


This book was written in an easy to read style, and had a lot of thought provoking ideas in form of stories. The stories were true and right out of the headlines, showing how bad people are at determining the truth about people-what they say, how they say it, and what their motives are. The stories tell of times people should have been suspicious of a person and weren't, and other times people explained weird behavior by assigning nefarious motives with no real evidence. There is an interesting section on alcohol and how it affects behavior, which presented a new slant. There was an interesting idea of coupling, where the behavior is coupled with the place, something I hadn't thought of before. These ideas can make a difference in the policies that cities and towns implement, and possibly be a solution to some of our most pressing issues right now. I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would, and it started a few good conversations with some people in my family.


Review posted July 16, 2021


Interesting book but not at all what I was expecting. I was expecting it to be a self-help book with strategies on how to communicate better with strangers. However, the book is actually a long, thorough analysis of various criminal cases and historical examples to prove the thesis that we as people have 3 flawed fundamental assumptions about strangers that impede our communication and understanding of them. Overall, Gladwell tells you what NOT to do more than what TO DO when dealing with strangers, and I would hardly call it a "guidebook," as is written about it in the inner flap summary. I learned a good deal of interesting information on somewhat disconnected topics, such as the effects of alcohol, various psychological and anthropological studies, and the modern tactics of American policing, which I gladly will add to my arsenal of knowledge about the world, but I don't feel that I actually learned how to talk to strangers more effectively. For that reason I give it 4-stars: It contains a wealth of well-written and well-researched information and analysis, but ultimately does not deliver on its promise of helping the reader on the title topic. (Also, IMPORTANT NOTE: the cases discussed are cases of rape, murder, torture, and suicide. Do not read this book if you have a light tolerance for such topics.)

Richard LaPlante

Review posted July 9, 2021


Very insightful. It gave me a new perspective on many things in my own personal life.

Ruth Ralph

Review posted July 3, 2021


The book caught my attention because I wanted to learn more about how we can be fooled by people. I was not anticipating the numerous collection of case studies where deception was deep. I am a sensitive kind of person, not the kind that can read about ghastly crimes and move on to the next one in a sitting. I get the point of the book and I learned from that but it's not for those that don't like reading details about all kinds of deceptions with in depth details.


Review posted June 24, 2021


Interesting perspective but a little hard to get in to.

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Review posted June 17, 2021


I have to start by admitting I assumed Talking to Strangers was about strategies to better talk to strangers. As a community builder this struck me as a fascinating topic for the gifted author, Malcolm Gladwell, to take on. Unfortunately, this is not what the book is about. The book is about how people think they are smarter and better than they are and are constantly being misled and betrayed as a result. I understand the premise, but it is not a topic I would have knowingly chosen for myself. The author wants you to understand that people are constantly lying to you and you are predisposed to believe they are always telling the truth. This may be true, but it's just not helpful to me and how I choose to live my life or do my work. Malcolm Gladwell has written some great books like Tipping Point and Blink. I would recommend you read those.


Review posted June 16, 2021


As with all his works Malcolm Gladwell presents a thoughtful look at engaging with strangers. While I'm partial to his Blink offering this work is still very good. Recommended, but somewhat dense reading.


Review posted May 27, 2021


The concept of defaulting to truth is one of the biggest take aways from this book. We tend to default to the fact that everyone is telling the truth instead of going through life untrusting and bombarding folks with questions and mistrust.


Review posted May 26, 2021


It was a very easy read but as usual, he stretches a minor philosophical point way out of proportion and gives far too much leeway to the malfeasance of government actors. Meh out of five stars.


Review posted May 24, 2021


Chapter One deals with not knowing how to talk to strangers. This was illustrated by reviewing police encounters with citizens that escalated into serious and disastrous results for both sides. Malcolm Gladwell's observations concerning studies of various types of criminal cases and social clinical experiments were well outlined. His thoughts on misconceptions and errors of judgement and deviousness of individuals such as Hitler, Madoff, Sandusky, and others highlighted the problem of trustworthiness by the public. Skepticism should prevail concerning the truthfulness of others, be they relatives, friends, strangers, or media employees. "Our strategies for dealing with strangers is deeply flawed," he states. He also stated that facial expressions have no validity of truthfulness or guilt. The chapter on excess consumption of alcoholic drinks is illustrated by cases of blackouts and non-consensual sex. The book is a well-written thesis from a skeptic's point of view of the current American society. I would highly recommend this book. Thank you for sending it to me. I will pass it on to others.


Review posted May 17, 2021


I rated 5 stars because I’m a data person. Some of the information was already familiar to me due to my background, which enhanced my experience with this book. If you like true crime podcasts, you will probably enjoy this book, too. If you are interested in intersectionality (a term I first learned via Kimberly Crenshaw’s TedTalk), you will probably notice how anthropology, policing, psychology (trauma), and literature hold space in in overlapping realms regarding communication skills, or lack there of. However, this book is not void of passion-on the contrary-it was born of passion and backed up with evidence. There is some reading between the lines, at least for me, in unpacking the investigation of Sandra Bland’s death. My tip is that while listening to the police officer interview consider his statements to be a product of careful coaching by his union rep rather than a earnest response to his role in Bland’s death.


Review posted May 13, 2021


Talking to Strangers is an interesting book that looks at the way we interpret others, particularly people we do not know, in order to assess their intentions. Non-verbal body language in alignment with many different factors covered. This is an easy read with references to pop-culture and well known research. I enjoyed this book.


Review posted May 10, 2021


Malcolm Gladwell's 'Talking to Strangers' left me wondering what's next? How do we resolve or find a middle ground instead of the default to truth behavior and abandoning trust altogether? I felt hopeless after reading the book with little belief in change or a solution. Yet, since finishing the book, I have had 3 major discussions around the book, sharing the bits and pieces that stuck with me the most. Perhaps that is the solution, the conversations that arise out of discussing the book. Would I recommend this book to others, yes, of course! I never heard many situations in the book, and my worldview was opened because of it.


Review posted May 7, 2021


Great read!!! I can definitely reflect on times where default to truth has served me well and times that it has resulted in mess that needed to be cleaned up. The same is true for default to deception. Interestingly enough, I find myself jumping between these two quite often as my instincts kick in to say "is this really possible?" The examples Gladwell dissects are timely and insightful- gives me much food for thought about current events and a new lens to look through.


Review posted May 1, 2021


In his usual engaging, thoughtful prose, Malcolm Gladwell finds another riveting topic that most authors ignore. As the title suggests, this book is about talking to strangers, but it's about much more that. It's about the assumptions we make about people we don't know -- and those assumptions aren't really about those people at all, but rather about our efforts to make sense of an unfamiliar world. We default to assuming people are operating out of truth and transparency, which is accurate in many cases but causes us to have blind spots that can have enormous consequences in some cases. In addition, we assume that there are simplistic reasons for people's behavior, a kind of causal relationship of nature/character with outcomes, but we miss one of the most important factors: Context. That context has as much to do with place or setting as it does the influence of other people. Like always, Gladwell's writing not only makes you smarter, but forces you to broaden your intellectual horizons by considering something you've probably never thought of before. Now that's a conversation with a stranger that's worth having.

Julie Burchstead

Review posted April 16, 2021


Malcom Gladwell again has written a book that made me think. This time, using some high-profile cases of interactions gone awry, he delves into the ways we are wired to respond and react to the strangers around us, and how those reactions (and they way they often miss the mark) influence the work and practices of judges, police, the military-particularly those who try to get information from others under duress, administrators and colleagues, and anyone, really, who encounters someone they don't know, and without thinking about it, makes assumptions about how others should behave in certain contexts, and offers judgement when they don't conform. It is a reminder how incredibly complex humans are, and how high the costs can be to those who get caught up in the rigidity of norms and assumptions. A particularly compelling quote for me, was how aggressive policing policies involving searches triggered purposefully by minor-even trivial traffic violations, turned up "bad apples" in only 17 of 400,000 instances. Gladwell asks, "Is it really worth stigmatizing and alienating 399,983 Mikes and Sandras in order to find 17 bad apples?" In our global world, we are surrounded by strangers. We need to be aware of our biases and how they color our interactions.


Review posted April 12, 2021


Very helpful in created a framework with which to have conversations.


Review posted April 9, 2021


I liked this book, and was almost convinced by Mr. Gladwell's theory about "coupling". The stories of Chamberlain and Hitler, Bernie Madoff, etc., were told with a new perspective.


Review posted April 8, 2021


A more difficult read than expected. Left with the feeling the author poses questions without enough answers.


Review posted March 26, 2021


This book is AMAZING. I adore Malcolm Gladwell, and this is his best yet. It's a fascinating read with interesting implications for making changes in our communities and truly knowing the people around us.


Review posted March 22, 2021


Very interesting read. The author gives real stories and connection to his theories of how we view others. I found many discussions that made me think differently and a reminder about connecting with others especially those we don't know.


Review posted March 22, 2021


His writing is fascinating and thought-provoking, as always. Such a good read!


Review posted March 16, 2021


This is a fascinating book, makes you think in new ways and question everything you thought you knew before. Gladwell has become rather politicized in the last few years but this is just gold.


Review posted March 16, 2021


Amazing true stories and topics help illustrate the need to listen and evaluate when meeting new people; to try and understand their true intentions and feelings... very interesting.


Review posted March 15, 2021


Amazing Book. Very insightful and a great read all around.


Review posted February 18, 2021


I chose this book, because of the author. I had read The Tipping Point and really enjoyed it. This had many of the same elements of from previous Gladwell books, including bringing together many interesting research studies. # I found this book strange in that it is dealing with several “dark” topics (undetected spies, pedophiles, sociopaths, police stops). It makes the book a bit unsettling, and it leaves without an easy or comfortable resolution. This is compounded by a rambling narrative. # I had hoped that this would provide advice on how to deal with strangers, maybe providing some insight on cross cultural communication. I would rather have wanted three more detailed books. One book on community policing, one book on interrogating spies, and one book on sexual assaults. I am not sure of any group that I would recommend this to.


Review posted February 15, 2021


Amazing read. Very eye opening to. Gladwell always has a fresh perspective on life.


Review posted February 2, 2021


This book is a must read! It is thought provoking and a fast read. If you like other books by Gladwell, you'll enjoy this.