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Consequential Strangers: Turning Everyday Encounters Into Life-Changing Moments Paperback – July 26, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
While, as the authors state, practically every article and book, every therapist, and every relationship guru in the media focus almost exclusively on 'primary relationships,' there is a dearth of attention paid to individuals' secondary—or tertiary—connections: the butcher, the dry cleaner, the proprietor of the bodega where we shop daily. Transient individuals, friends of friends and their acquaintances play critical roles in our lives, say Baby Whisperer Blau and Purdue professor Fingerman. These people have access to resources intimates might not and can challenge our belief systems. This book is especially cogent today when so many unemployed are relying on social networking contacts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, where friends most likely aren't part of an inner circle, but could know of a job not publicly advertised. Anecdotes, television, scholarly studies and Blau and Fingerman's own experience—they were consequential strangers who first met via telephone—illustrate the importance of individuals we often take for granted yet who enrich our lives in ways not immediately noticeable but that could prove highly significant. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“The essential guide to navigating our new twenty-first-century social waters.”
- Mark Granovetter, professor of sociology, Stanford University
“Especially cogent today. . . . Illustrate[s] the importance of individuals we often take for granted yet who enrich our lives in ways not immediately noticeable but that could prove highly significant.”
- Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
The extensively researched and highly accessible book starts out by reviewing Mark Granovetter's seminal study on "The Strength of Weak Ties", first published in the 1973 (and revisited in 1983), which demonstrated that people outside our innermost social circles were the most likely to help us find jobs and mobilize our communities. They continue on with research published in 2003 by Keith Hampton and Barry Wellman on the strength of weak ties abetted by technology in connecting and mobilizing physical communities, "Neighboring in Netville: How the Internet Supports Community and Social Capital in a Wired Suburb", as well as research by Robert Wuthnow ("After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion") that explores the different kinds of groups outside of our neighborhoods - religious, self-help and activity-oriented - in which consequential strangers seek and provide assistance to each other.
In addition to the academic research reviewed in the book, the authors include a number of other stories highlighting the importance of consequential strangers. For example, Karla Lightfoot, an enthusiastic member of the Ladies Who Launch entrepreneur network, has achieved personal and professional success due, in part, to her delight in the interactions and connections with the people she encounters in a variety of contexts. Lightfoot, who the authors describe as an acquaintanceship artist, extols (and demonstrates) the benefits of being more open to serendipitous opportunities: "It's about sharing whatever you have and people being able to ask for what they need". Graham Spanier, president of Pennsylvania State University (with over 38,000 employees and 80,000 students spanning 24 campuses), spends the first week of the school year living in a freshman dorm in order to expand his network of consequential strangers, noting that breaking down barriers can help leaders become more effective. Sue Ellen Cooper, founder of the Red Hat Society, discovered that assembling a group of consequential strangers to engage in a "small act of rebellion" - wearing purple outfits and red hats to lunch (as shown in photo to the left) - helped unleash "their most carefree, playful selves". This group of women over fifty who gather for "fun, friendship, freedom and fulfillment" has become the world's largest social networking community for women, having grown to 40,000 members in a little over ten years.
The authors cite psychological studies by Marilyn Brewer (who pioneered optimal distinctiveness theory) that differentiate between a personal self that seeks distinction, and a social self that seeks connection and belonging. They note other studies that demonstrate the power and prevalence of social mirrors, and the role of audiences and witnesses in the perception and construction of our complex selves: "We see ourselves in others' eyes". Consequential strangers help us stretch beyond the relatively rigid boxes that the people who have known us the longest - our family and close friends - often put us into. Through interacting with people who do not know us as well, we are more free to experiment with ourselves, and less likely to have our new behaviors and roles reflected back to us by people who object, "But that's not like you!".
Places and groups that offer support for redefining or extending ourselves might be thought of as self-construction zones. This support is, I suspect, a large part of the power of entrepreneur networks - where people are experimenting with new businesses - colleges and universities - where people are experimenting with new fields of learning - and social networking groups - where people are experimenting with new ways of having fun (not that I mean to imply that business, learning and fun are mutually exclusive).
Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that
All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.
One corollary may be that every consequential stranger represents a lab partner, and the places we interact with consequential strangers represent living laboratories.
Some of the most productive living laboratories are coffeehouses, prototypical third places where people may be especially receptive to serendipitous encounters with consequential strangers. I first encountered Blau and Fingerman's book in my research into the social aspects of coffeehouses.
The book includes an entire chapter on "Being Spaces": places "where a stranger can become a consequential stranger" that feature "an atmosphere and activities that inspire us to connect". The authors do talk about coffeehouses, of course, but extend the discussion of sociable spaces to include diners, banks, supermarkets, gyms and other physical environments that are seeking to integrate communal and commercial benefits by creating "human watering holes" that promote the "linger longer effect".
Toward the end of the chapter, the authors extend the notion of being spaces from the physical world to the online world. They profile [...], a web site where people can make plans online to connect offline with others based on shared interests and activities. Throughout the book, they make references to online communities and social networking sites. Interestingly, while they make numerous references to Facebook, it seems to me that Twitter is the online platform most conducive to the transformation of strangers into consequential strangers and acquaintances.
In closing I want to note that this is only my second Amazon review. While I have reviewed many books on my blog, Gumption (and the foregoing is an excerpt from a longer review that appears there), I typically only post a review on Amazon when I feel my rating or review deviates from the norm. In this case, I'm surprised that there is a glowing review accompanied by a 3-star rating, and a 1-star review that is complaining about Amazon service, totally unrelated to the content of the book. I hope my rating - if not my review - will help compensate for these others.
Finally, another reviewer took issue with the title. I, too, felt that a more accurate title might have been "Consequential Acquaintances", but suspect that "Consequential Strangers" is more provocative ... and [thus] more likely to pique people's interests.
I like getting new terms and concepts to use, 'social convoy' has been really helpful. This book encourages us to embrace each other in community. I am better with others that I might just be consequential stranger to.
A comfortable read, with great examples and good influence. I've written four blogs about this and have told almost 50 people about the book!