Book Review: Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

How good are you at talking with strangers? Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book Talking to Strangers: What we Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, suggests that we’re terrible at it. Yet, we interact with strangers every day.

Talking to Strangers highlights current social issues of our times, including race. Further, Gladwell unravels the reasons why professionals make mistakes in their endeavor to understand people.

Common societal problems like race are a focal point for this book, making Gladwell’s argument more compelling.

Gladwell expertly explains how a seemingly innocent interaction between two strangers can go horribly wrong. Yet, misperceptions and miscues contribute to hysteria as people navigate the unknown of each other.

I’ll first summarize the book followed by some key takeaways.

Talking to Strangers

Photo by cottonbro


Gladwell breaks his book into five parts:

-Spies and Diplomats: Two Puzzles

-Default to Truth



-Prairie View, Texas

Gladwell begins with an interaction between Sandra Bland and Texas highway patrolman Brian Encinia. In the audiobook, Gladwell uses the actual audio footage when Officer Encinia arrests Sandra Bland.

Encinia pulled over Bland for failing to signal a lane change. After some exchange between the individuals, the situation escalated, and Encinia arrested Bland. Later, officers found Bland’s dead body in her cell after she killed herself.

Trusting Authority

That was only one tale in the book. Gladwell also dives into the Ana Montes case. Montes was a double agent for Cuba who also worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency for many years.  Eventually, Montes got caught.

Experts hadn’t noticed how Montes was able to keep her deception hidden for so long.

Similarly, Gladwell further described Cuba’s success in turning U.S. Central Intelligence Agents into spies for Cuba.

The Central Intelligence Agency was the one who vetted these people to be spies on behalf of the United States into Cuba. Yet, the U.S. failed to notice the problem. Default to truth was to blame here.

Gladwell talked about convicted child sex abusers like former Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Additionally, Gladwell discusses former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar.

The book dives into how these two influential people were allowed to continue their crimes because of their reputations.

Later in the book, Gladwell talks about interrogations and terrorists. How can an interrogator extract information from a terrorist who will not expose their secrets? It’s a classic example of an unstoppable object colliding with an immovable object.

Gladwell also discusses the death of Sylvia Plath, the Milgram Experiment, and other studies on truth as well.

The book also talked about British officials meeting with Adolf Hitler and falsely assuming that Hitler would not attack Poland. The puzzles remain. Gladwell’s in-depth look at human interaction emphasized the complexities of communication.

Talking to Strangers

Key Takeaways

I rarely ask people to choose the audiobook over the hardcover. But this one is an exception.

Talking To Strangers is Gladwell’s best audiobook by far. Whenever there is an account, written or otherwise, he either has actors play the roles or plays the actual audio.

For example, he plays the actual audio footage of the Sandra Bland arrest, British officials’ speeches, and interviews with counterintelligence officers.

Gladwell is meticulous in how he presents the book. It plays like a podcast, which is a refreshing listen compared to the norm. He’ll play music and candidly quote the documents he uses.

Gladwell’s writing style is intriguing. He presents a puzzle, lays out the evidence, and then lets the reader think about the concept.

In my opinion, I enjoy an unfinished story. It offers intrigue into why things are and what could change.

Each section begins with a real-life account of what happened and then talks about why it happened.

The material itself was engaging. Gladwell presented enough details to keep the reader interested in the story, but not too much to bore the reader. His examples were relevant to the points he was trying to make, which enhanced the book’s content.

Buy Talking to Strangers


I enjoyed this book. Again, I highly encourage you to listen to the audiobook. It was entertaining, engaging, and informative. I felt like Gladwell handled sensitive topics with tact.

He was analytical instead of emotional about the Sandra Bland case, which was refreshing to hear. I felt like Gladwell genuinely sought the truth behind the puzzle he was presenting.

Leaders must understand their own biases and how those affect their workspaces.

If you want to buy the book, click here.

Have you read this book? Why do you think we’re bad at talking to strangers? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Photo Credit

1: cottonbro


3: August de Richelieu



4 thoughts on “Book Review: Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell”

  1. First off excellent review. I love the fact you took readers inside the book and the stories within offered as object lessons in communications. While I am of the anti politically correct movement there are things in body language as well as conversation that can reveal a lot about the people you speak with. These mannerisms can make communication a breeze and new friends become old friends in a single watercooler moment.

    1. Andy,

      I’m glad you found value in my review! It was an excellent book, and I think you’d enjoy it. Thank you for your comment!


  2. This is a great article, great summaries that all sound pretty interesting. I don’t usually read or listen to these kind of books, but this sounds like I could learn a thing or two about talking to strangers. Seeing as I’m a huge introvert and don’t really go out of my way to talk to strangers, I don’t know if I’ll pick this book up. I’m going to have to think on this one a little bit. Thanks for the review and your thoughts on it!

    1. Ryzehn,

      I’m glad you found some value in the review! It really is an engaging book, and I highly recommend the audio version. Thanks for your comment!


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