I wanted to read this book because Malcolm Gladwell is such a great conversationalist and writer that I was sure what he had to say about talking to strangers would be great for evangelism and apologetics. I was expecting this book similar to How to Win Friends and Influence People, but it’s not. Rather than giving simple advice on how to communicate with others, the book discusses the deeper issue of how we understand (or don’t understand) other people. The book is not what I expected it to be, and thank goodness for that because it is even better.
Gladwell is an excellent storyteller and he uses those stories to make his case. His ability to do that is unmatched and all but guaranteed this book would be enjoyable to read. However, this book had an edge to it that was not present in his other books, which only made it better. I was so captivated by this book that I finished it in about 36 hours. Not only did he tell great stories about interesting topics, but he describes what happened behind the curtain of very well known true events such as the Amanda Knox, Jerry Sandusky, and Larry Nassar cases; Neville Chamberlain’s meetings with Hitler; enhanced interrogation techniques; the suicide of Sylvia Plath; and more.
We live in a complicated world and our minds cannot make sense of all the data, so we simplify things. We ignore or don’t pay attention to details and make assumptions about others. This book smacks that mentality in the face by revealing the complexities in our interactions with others. I loved it for that. It’s reminiscent of the Freakonomics books in that way. A more apt title might have been How NOT to Talk to Strangers because primarily tells us what not to do when talking to others. The book gives a glimpse into how our minds work and it demolishes the stereotypes that cause friction when we talk to others.
While this book is interesting and informative in a broad sense, it’s most direct application relates to racial relations and prejudice. Gladwell moves beyond finger-pointing and name-calling to get to the deeper issues that create tension in our society. Recently I’ve seen a lot of book recommendations to help people understand what is happening in our country regarding race. I can’t comment on those other books, but I can say as a social scientist, that this book is excellent and I don’t know of another one I would recommend before this one to understand discrimination.
I recommend this book to everyone age 15 above (although it may be a little graphic for some 15-year-olds when discussing rape trials). It’s a great book to help people understand people better so that we can all be more understanding and patient with others, kinder to them, and more effective when we communicate. On top of these potential benefits, it’s a very enjoyable book to read.