Talking To Strangers
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Published by Little Brown and Company in 2019 (400pages)
Having read four of Malcolm Gladwell’s books earlier (Blink, The Tipping Point, David and Goliath and Outliers), I must admit that I am addicted to his writing style and always look forward to anecdotes that accompany his arguments. So, I decided to read his latest book, “Talking to Strangers.”
Talking to Strangers is about miscommunication and its negative results on individuals and society at large. The book begins with the infamous incident that happened in July 2015 that ended up in tragedy because of miscommunication. Sandra Bland, a young African American woman, was stopped by police near the campus of A&M University in Texas. She was pulled over by a cop, Brian Encinia, a 30 years old white man for changing lanes without signaling. Sandra Bland didn’t like that she was pulled over for a minor incident and argued with Brian Encina. Their argument got heated. Brian called for other cops. Miss Bland was arrested and three days later was found hanged in her cell. According to Gladwell, it was all a result of a miscommunication. Making sense of the stranger, Gladwell writes, “Requires humility and thoughtfulness and a willingness to look beyond the stranger, and take time and place and context into account.”
Gladwell continues to emphasize his point by citing interesting anecdotal accounts ranging from Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador, whose inability to communicate with Aztec ruler Montezuma II led to Montezuma’s death and the eventual end of the Aztec empire to Neville Chamberlain believing Hitler’s promise that all he (Hitler) really wanted was the Sudetenland, the ethnic-German part of Czechoslovakia, and had no designs on Poland or the rest of Europe. Gladwell further narrates the story from Fidel Castro to Bernie Madoff, who conned his way to the top of a massive Ponzi scheme involving some of the biggest institutions on Wall Street.
Gladwell conveys a great message: We shouldn’t be naive when dealing with strangers. We should question people instead of trusting them. But this should be done in the context in which the stranger is operating.
-Reviewed by Anil Shrivastava ‘Musafir’