In this thoughtful treatise spurred by the 2015 death of African-American academic Sandra Bland in jail after a traffic stop, New Yorker writer Gladwell (The Tipping Point) aims to figure out the strategies people use to assess strangers—to “analyze , critique them, figure out where they came from, figure out how to fix them,” in other words: to understand how to balance trust and safety. He uses a variety of examples from history and recent headlines to illustrate that people size up the motivations, emotions, and trustworthiness of those they don’t know both wrongly and with misplaced confidence. He relates, for example, the story of a whole cadre of American spies in Cuba who were carefully handpicked by American intelligence operatives, all of whom turned out to be pro-Castro double agents. Gladwell writes in his signature colorful, fluid, and accessible prose, though he occasionally fails to make fully clear the connection between a seemingly tangential topic such as suicide risk and the book’s main questions. In addition to providing an analysis of human mental habits and interactions, Gladwell pleas for more thoughtful ways of behaving and advocates for people to embrace trust, rather than defaulting to distrust, and not to “blame the stranger.” Readers will find this both fascinating and topical. Agent: Tina Bennett, William Morris Endeavor. (Sept.)
The latest intellectually stimulating book from the acclaimed author.
Every few years, journalist Gladwell (David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, 2013, etc.) assembles serious scientific research on oddball yet relevant subjects and then writes a bestseller. Readers expecting another everything-you-think-you-know-is-wrong page-turner will not be disappointed, but they will also encounter some unsettling truths. The author begins with a few accounts of black Americans who died at the hands of police, using the incidents to show how most of us are incompetent at judging strangers. Countless psychological studies demonstrate that humans are terrible at detecting lying. Experts such as FBI agents don't perform better. Judges interview suspects to determine if they deserve bail; they believe it helps, but the opposite is true. Computers, using only hard data, do much better. Many people had qualms about Bernie Madoff, but interviewers found him completely open and honest; "he was a sociopath dressed up as a mensch." This, Gladwell emphasizes, is the transparency problem. We believe that someone's demeanor reflects their thoughts and emotions, but it often doesn't. Gladwell's second bombshell is what he calls "default to truth." It seems like a university president resigns in disgrace every few months for the same reason: They hear accusations of abusive behavior by an employee—e.g., Larry Nassar at Michigan State, Jerry Sandusky at Penn State—conduct an investigation, but then take no action, often claiming that they did not have enough evidence of deceit. Ultimately, everyone agrees that they were criminally negligent. Another example is CIA official James Angleton, who was convinced that there was a Soviet mole in the agency; his decades of suspicion and search ruined careers and crippled American intelligence. Gladwell emphasizes that society could not function if we did not give everyone the benefit of the doubt. "To assume the best of another is the trait that has created modern society," he writes. "Those occasions when our trusting nature is violated are tragic. But the alternative—to abandon trust as a defense against predation and deception—is worse."
Another Gladwell tour de force but perhaps his most disturbing.
"Talking to Strangers is a must-read...I love this book... Reading it will actually change not just how you see strangers, but how you look at yourself, the news--the world...Reading this book changed me."Oprah Winfrey, O, The Oprah Magazine
"Powerful advice on truly getting to know others...Gladwell brilliantly argues that we should stop assuming, realize no one's transparent and understand that behavior is tied to unseen circumstances."People, Book of the Week
"Gladwell has again delivered a compelling, conversation-starting read...At a time when the world feels intractably polarized, a book examining the varying ways we misinterpret or fail to communicate with one another could not feel more necessary...With a mix of reporting, research and a deft narrative hand, Gladwell illuminates these examples with the page-turning urgency of a paperback thriller."Chris Barton, Los Angeles Times
"Mr. Gladwell's towering success rests on the moment when the skeptic starts to think that maybe we're wrong about everything and maybe, just maybe, this Gladwell guy is onto something...Talking to Strangers is weightier than his previous titles."Amy Chozick, New York Times
"Gladwell uses compelling real-world examples to show the how and why behind our interactions with folks we're trying to understand."
Rhett Power, Forbes
"Gladwell's case studies are thrilling...Chock-full of gripping anecdotes from the recent and forgotten past. He uses these riveting stories to offer up bite-size observations about how we engage with strangers."Maggie Taft, Booklist
"Another Gladwell tour de force...intellectually stimulating...Readers expecting another everything-you-think-you-know-is-wrong page-turner will not be disappointed."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Both fascinating and topical...A thoughtful treatise...Gladwell writes in his signature colorful, fluid, and accessible prose."Publishers Weekly
"Gladwell interviews brilliant people, generates powerful insights, writes like an angel, and has earned a massive and admiring audience.
He has a keen eye and a witty flair and he's one of the best observationalists of a generation. Gladwell is a big-picture thinker who helps us make sense of the human condition."Bob Brisco, WebMD Magazine
"As always, with his narrative gift and eye for the telling detail,
Gladwell peppers his work with unforgettable facts... He has immense gifts--a probing, original, questioning mind, an ability to dig up information others haven't considered and tie it to a broader point. He has a narrative skill nonpareil."Stephen Galloway, Hollywood Reporter
"Engaging...Mr. Gladwell [presents] a mountain of quirky anecdotes and interesting research about our blunders with strangers, and why we make them...It's fascinating to peek at these incidents through Mr. Gladwell's psychological lens."Leigh Anne Focareta, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Inspiring and motivating...Gladwell is a wunderkind and a saint...He takes on racial division, incompatible perspectives, and emotional dissonance without ever sounding preaching or proud. The stories make you think."John Brandon, Daily Beast
"Superb writing. Masterful structure."Pilita Clark, Financial Times (UK)
The prolific, best-selling Gladwell (David and Goliath; The Tipping Point) presents an intriguing analysis of what far too often goes wrong when strangers meet, diving deeply into relatively well-known controversial public incidents thoroughly covered by the mass media to cast doubt on how the general public has come to understand these events. The deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, the suicide of Sylvia Plath, the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal at Pennsylvania State University, and the death of Sandra Bland highlight the premise that ordinary tools and techniques used to make sense of people we don't know have failed society. The result of this failure is further conflict and misunderstanding that impact international relations and even threaten world order. Many of the examples exemplify how race, gender, age, language, country of origin, perceived threat, challenge to authority, contextual setting, and other variables can dominate impulsive behavior that shuns connections among people. VERDICT This work should stimulate further research that could serve as control for these variables and more directly link how the factor of strangeness might influence certain reactions, providing a valuable contribution to psychology and psychiatry collections in larger university libraries.—Dale Farris, Groves, TX