Cover of Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell has assembled another collection of thought-provoking stories, gestalt-shattering research, and irresistible anecdotes. This is challenging material; not linguistically—Gladwell is eminently readable—but conceptually. Once again, Gladwell escorts us to the window and points, saying “Look, look. The world does not work the way you think it does.”.

Gladwell’s choice of examples is also challenging. Hitler, People v Brock Turner, and Sandra Bland’s encounter with Brian Encinia each come with a lot of baggage. Culturally significant events make for powerful examples, but they can overshadow any point you’re trying to make if it is relatively subtle.

There is a slightly padded feel to the book as though it took some extra glue to bridge the different topics. The section about context and place in particular feels distant from the others despite being strong material. I can’t help imagining this could have been a leaner and more to-the-point book without trying so hard to fit everything in the “Talking to Strangers” box.

Even with its flaws, “Talking to Strangers” is an illuminating analysis of human behavior. I feel I can be a better person after having read it, and I would recommend it to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of how people work.