October 25, 2020

Gen Z Conservative

The thoughts of a young conservative on political issues relevant to all ages

Talking to Strangers

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Introduction to Talking to Strangers

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell is an interesting book. Good? Somewhat. Some sections are, at least. Accurate? Again, somewhat. Factually, it is mostly correct, but the facts are twisted in a way to attack many things that younger conservatives know and love.

In Talking to Strangers, Gladwell attacks active policing, fraternities, and many other things. But, at the same time, he manages to describe the problem with trials about traumatic events such as sexual assault. And that’s what makes it an interesting book. Mixed in with the bits that I think are incorrectly interpreted, there are an incredible number of gems that really help with understanding why people are bad at talking to strangers.

Like I said in my review of The Power of Habit, I find books about how the mind works absolutely fascinating. That’s why I’ve liked previous books by Malcolm Gladwell, especially The Tipping Point. But, Talking to Strangers wasn’t quite as good. Something was off. However, because I find the general concept intriguing, I thought I’d still review the book. Even if I didn’t love it, some of y’all might find it interesting.

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Summary of Talking to Strangers

Talking to Strangers by talking to strangers is about a wide variety of topics. As a whole though, it boils down to why people are bad at talking to people they don’t know.

To prove that point, Gladwell uses anecdotes. A fraternity party gone bad at Stanford. A police interaction with a woman that ends badly. The Sandusky rape case and resulting trial. And, espionage during the Cold War. Specifically, he discusses how

Each case is interesting in its own right, but overall they’re just individual instances of strangers not being able to talk to each other. Gladwell presents no evidence that each event presents a pattern of evil due to our inability to talk with strangers.

Analysis

And that’s my problem with Talking to Strangers. In it, Gladwell wants to make the point that the police are evil and intentionally harassing black people Similarly, he wants to make the point that fraternities are evil because they encourage binge drinking and sexual assault. Needless to say, I don’t agree. While I certainly have problems with the police, I don’t agree with Gladwell’s analysis. Nor do I agree that fraternities are evil; I’m in one, and they are ways to find friends with similar interests.

Yes, some of Gladwell’s points make sense. Particularly, his point of how our inability to talk to strangers played a role in the CIA’s ability to uncover Cuban spies made sense. In fact, it reminded me a lot of Bridge of Spies. Perhaps, America would have been better off had we been better able to talk to strangers.

On the other hand, the part about the Sandusky trials felt completely out of place. It was an interesting if long-winded anecdote, but it didn’t really make sense in the context of Talking to Strangers.

Conclusion

The problem Gladwell identifies is undoubtedly a real one. People, especially Americans, are terribly bad at talking to strangers.

Sadly, Gladwell didn’t do a good job identifying it or explaining it. Perhaps a future psychology writer will do a better job.

By: Gen Z Conservative

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