Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

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Summary

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know, by Malcolm Gladwell, was published in September 2019. The book is a work of nonfiction that explores the many ways in which people misread each other. Gladwell suggests not only that we often misinterpret each others' words, but that we also sometimes misjudge others' motives or misread false claims of innocence.

Even though Gladwell says this most often happens with strangers, he contends that we also misconstrue what is said or make assumptions based on the demeanor or attitude of people we do know. Gladwell believes that sometimes people are "mismatched," in the sense that a liar behaves as an honest person (as in the case of Hitler) or vice versa.

In the case of Hitler, Gladwell discusses British prime minister Neville Chamberlain's meeting with Hitler in 1938. During this encounter, Hitler convinced Chamberlain that he was not interested in entangling Germany in another war. Chamberlain was completely taken in by Hitler and convinced that he would keep his word, even writing to his sister,

I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.

There were other British politicians—including Winston Churchill—who were not fooled by Hitler, but because all parties were so eager to avoid war, by the time the British realized Hitler's true intentions, it was far too late.

Gladwell also mentions his own experience of being "taken in" by Wall Street entrepreneur Bernie Madoff in 2004. Gladwell interviewed Madoff for a magazine article in The Economist and was impressed by Madoff's calm and gracious manner, especially as compared to many of the other Wall Street businessmen he had interviewed in the past. Of course, in 2008, when Gladwell learned about Madoff's Ponzi scheme and how Madoff had ruined the lives of many investors, he had to acknowledge that he, too, had been duped.

In chapter 1, Gladwell delves into the...

(The entire section is 491 words.)