Reviews > Book

Talking to Strangers


By Taha Kehar | June 2020

Title      : Talking to Strangers: What
We Should Know about the
People We Don’t Know
Author   : Malcolm Gladwell
Publisher: Penguin UK
Pages     : 385pp

If the writer and philosopher Albert Schweitzer is to be believed, “we cannot possibly let ourselves get frozen into regarding everyone we do not know as an absolute stranger”. In an inherently globalized world, we must reexamine our understanding of strangers and find unique ways of navigating social situations with people who we aren’t acquainted with.

Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers builds on a similar motif and offers some illuminating insights on the nature of our interaction with strangers. Conventional wisdom would have us believe that human beings often misinterpret each other’s actions and intentions. This produces conflict and resistance among people, and encourages the darker elements of our personalities to take hold. Gladwell’s new book relies heavily on psychological insights, historical research, legal cases and a string of anecdotes to probe deeper into the disastrous consequences that may arise when we misjudge those who are unknown to us.

If we critically assess Gladwell’s body of work, we find that it uses an interdisciplinary focus to great effect and highlights the “unexpected implications” of research in sociology, social psychology and history. His new book follows this methodology.

Though his work makes effective use of academic discourse, Gladwell succeeds in presenting his ideas and arguments without using jargon as a crutch. As a result, Talking to Strangers comes across as a clear, engaging account on how to maneuver complex social settings with tact. Throughout the book, we find heartrending anecdotes of people who have encountered dangerous repercussions owing to the misconceptions they harbour about each other.

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