Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

An entertaining audiobook about how we seek to understand other people and the myriad of ways we misunderstand each other. This book did not convince me of anything but it was thought-provoking.


Malcolm Gladwell, host of the podcast Revisionist History and author of the number-one New York Times best seller Outliers, reinvents the audiobook in this immersive production of Talking to Strangers, a powerful examination of our interactions with people we don’t know. 

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. 

The audiobook edition of Talking to Strangers was an instant number-one best seller, and was one of the most pre-ordered audiobooks in history. It seamlessly marries audiobooks and podcasts, creating a completely new and real listening experience. from Little Brown.

The title Talking to Strangers is above a ven diagram of conversation bubbles in yellow and blue with the overlap in green that states “what we should know about the people we don’t know.” by Malcolm Gladwell.


This book begins and ends with the tragic story of Sandra Bland. In between, the author makes a series of arguments as to why we misunderstand strangers and how these misunderstandings create tragic mistakes.

It is important to understand that this book rehashes famous rape and pedophilia cases in detail and does so from a neutral vantage point that feels wrong. We know in these cases who the good guys and the bad guys turned out to be and should have no sympathy for their actions. But Gladwell turns the conversation again and again to how those with the power to stop, whether that be Brock Turner himself or the staff surrounding Sandusky and Nassar, deserve our sympathy because they misunderstood strangers.

That is because Gladwell argues that everyone else in the world is set to the default of seeing truth. That’s why the parents of the gymnasts under Nassar believes that he was doing good things. But if we always default to truth, why didn’t the parents believe their children when they said something was wrong? If we default to truth, why didn’t the staff around Sandusky believe the victims when they came forward? Perhaps Gladwell means we default to truth when people are in positions of authority. That certainly seems the more likely argument considering the details of the Nassar and Sandusky pedophilia cases. He seems to ignore that the default to truth doesn’t include the victims or those who are questioning our understanding of situtations.

This is one of this main arguments. That, in order to function as a society the people in that society default to truth. I genuinely struggled with this. Do you all assume that everything everyone tells you is true? I certainly don’t. Perhaps it is the way I am made, or my experiences in life, but I don’t always assume people are telling the truth – especially strangers. Honestly, even children know that not everyone is telling us the truth.

Some of Gladwell’s other arguments about how we misunderstand strangers were more thought-provoking and interesting. All of them quickly became fodder for my nearest and dearest to hear some version of “what do you think of this….” I may not have agreed with most of Gladwell’s offerings but all of them fired up my interest in learning more if only to refute his conclusions.

Substance aside, the narration of this audiobook was interesting. Gladwell used original audio from historic events, interviews with experts, and performed re-enactments. This made the audiobook feel more like a podcast, which is a format in which Gladwell excels. From my perspective, the consumption was enjoyable even when I didn’t agree with the arguments.

I only do positive reviews here on SilverButtonBooks. And, I know that this doesn’t sound positive but really, this book was fascinating for me even when I vehemently disagreed. You can love reading a book that you absolutely disagreed with and this book certainly sparked something in me.

Tell me, please!

What is a book you read that you recommend because you want people to talk to you about it?


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