It’s been a long time since I finished a book feeling quite as conflicted as I do now.
On the one hand, Talking to Strangers is an incredibly interesting, engaging book about a number of high-profile news stories over the last several decades. Gladwell takes on Jerry Sandusky, Amanda Knox, Sandra Bland, Sylvia Plath, Larry Nassar, and more. He presents really interesting psychological studies. He made me think about how I interpret strangers’ behavior and how other people might interpret mine.
On the other hand, I’m not sure he ever makes his point, or if he really has a point to make. He makes some disturbing excuses for sexual assault and race-based crimes. I’d like to think that he’s just trying to provide a well-rounded view on the topic, but if there were ever topics that shouldn’t be excused, they’re sexual assault and racism.
Two things I learned from this book:
- We naturally default to truth. We want to believe that people aren’t lying to us, so we’ll rationalize weird behavior, as in the Jerry Sandusky and Larry Nassar cases. Not defaulting to truth, and instead defaulting to everyone being a criminal, is what results in cases like Sandra Bland’s arrest.
- Things like crime and suicide are coupled, meaning that their place and context of occurrence are tied to their existence. For example, adding a suicide barrier on a bridge will overall reduce suicides, not encourage people who might want to commit suicide to find an alternate method. Increasing police presence in a high crime neighborhood will overall reduce crime, not force it to a different area.
It seems that Gladwell’s main point in this book is that many of the problems in the world can be traced back to misunderstandings. That seems to be a pretty flimsy idea to base a nearly 400-page book around, and I don’t really think the connection worked for me. That said, this book was so interesting that I don’t really care.
Have you read Talking to Strangers? Have you read any good books on psychology recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!