Top positive review
"We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues."
September 10, 2019
Malcolm Gladwell is a gifted writer who engages our minds and emotions in his works of non-fiction. In "Talking to Strangers,” he tells us true stories that, at first, seem to be unrelated. A police stop ends in tragedy; Neville Chamberlain and other political figures famously misconstrued Hitler's bellicose intentions; experienced judges grant bail to defendants who, they realize too late, should have remained in jail; the sociopath, Bernie Madoff, conducted a fraudulent investment scheme for years, deceiving many individuals who thought that he was a genius at making money; Amanda Knox served prison time for a murder that she did not commit.
Studies show that most of us who encounter apparently benevolent individuals are predisposed to believe that they are not putting on an act. Conversely, when we meet a man or woman who behaves weirdly or inappropriately, we are likely to jump to negative conclusions about him or her, even when there is little hard evidence to support our assumptions. The author suggests that many of us have an inflated opinion of our ability to size up people. Research suggests that we are not as objective as we would like to believe, and are therefore prone to misinterpret comments, intonations, facial expressions, and gestures. Moreover, we do not always realize that people whose backgrounds differ from ours may communicate in unfamiliar ways.
Gladwell asks: How did double-agents who telegraphed their guilt get away with their treasonous behavior for so long? Why didn't everyone recognize Madoff for what he is—a ruthless swindler? Which of Amanda Knox's personality traits, remarks, and deeds convinced Italian authorities that she killed her roommate? These compelling examples raise intriguing questions about why we sometimes reach erroneous conclusions when we assess the truthfulness of our fellow human beings. it should be noted that a few chapters in this book—such as the essays on suicide, young adults who drink so heavily that they black out, and the efforts of police to cut down on crime—are thought-provoking but oversimplified and not particularly relevant to Gladwell's central premise. Still, this work of non-fiction is an entertaining and enlightening wake-up call. We should be cautious when we decide who our friends are as opposed to who is likely to stab us in the back. Too often we are dead wrong.