Talking to Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell

What we should know about the People we don’t know

The first book that I had ever read by Malcolm Gladwell was “The Outliers“. It was a wonderful book where Gladwell goes a little further, analyzes what truly makes an Outlier through examples ranging from The Beatles, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs to even the Canadian Ice Hockey Team. While he has authored various other books, the second book I’ve managed to read is Talking To Strangers.

In case, you haven’t read The Outliers, I strongly recommend you do.

Who is Malcolm Gladwell? Why is he important?

For me, ‘The Tipping Point‘ was this Ted Talk. How a researcher thought that there could not be one Diet Pepsi but Diet Pepsis because individuals had varying degrees of what they like and what not. More often than not, people don’t know what they want which is why there were 30+ variants of spaghetti sauce when it was launched and all of them were an instant success.

This video is almost 13 years old and will definitely give you a chance to re-look and re-think how we think the obvious.

The Book

The book rather starts on a quite riveting note, an account of a young African American woman Sandra Bland who was pulled over for failing to signal a lane change, arrested and put in a jail cell, all for failing to signal a lane change. After two days, she committed suicide in her cell.

So what went wrong?

The author takes us through accounts of American spies in Cuba who were double crossed by Castro’s regime, first hand account of a meeting with Hitler and a host of other stories.

Then comes a brilliant concept of “Default to Truth” – where we always have a natural tendency to assume that things are not out of place and are indeed normal. While the author argues that this has been the very foundation of all human interactions and should be encouraged more often than not, it is worthwhile to also exercise caution and be careful with our conversations.

Gladwell also takes a Friends reference to explain a fallacy with respect to Transparency. He also drives home the point that people might perceive what happiness looks like differently in different parts of the world.

He takes us through accounts of the Amanda Knox case, the suicide of Sylvia Plath and the Kansas City Experiment of cops ensuring that law and order is maintained to the highest order.

After taking us through all these cases and giving us insights on the various facets, Gladwell finally concludes on the Sandra Bland case by presenting perspectives from both the sides.

Final Thoughts

The book is not an account on how you should be Talking to Strangers but it is rather a brilliant work on the various anecdotes of various controversial cases around wrongful conviction, counter-intelligence, sexual assault, suicide, and law enforcement. It drives home the point of empathy and also concludes that despite knowing everything we may not know anything about them.

You can get the book on Amazon here. It is available both on Kindle and Paperback.

Shout-out to Dustin from San Jose whose blog post inspired me to complete this book in a week. You can check his short post about the book here.

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Have you read the book? What was the best anecdote that inspired you? For me it was the concept of Coupling.

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About the author

Saket Mehrotra

Number cruncher, avid reader, coffee connoisseur, book store hopper & Metallica fan. An active follower of Sensex since 2009. CA, CS by profession. The views expressed in this blog are my own and in no way represent the views of my employer.

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