By Dan DeNeve
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell is not exactly what you would expect if you based your opinion of the book on just the title. In fact, Gladwell digs much deeper.
This book is not at all about talking to people you encounter every day, but are strangers. This is not a self-help book for the introverted or shy. Rather, Gladwell points out how we misread people all the time and then wind up blaming the other person for any misunderstanding.
The book is divided into five parts: Spies and Diplomats; Default to Truth; Transparency; Lessons; and Coupling.
In Spies and Diplomats, Gladwell shows how Fidel Castro had a double agent working for him, but at the same time, duping the United States. Later in the same section, Gladwell discusses how Neville Chamberlain completely misread Adolf Hitler’s intentions, while Anthony Eden and Winston Churchill saw right through Hitler.
Part two was by far the most fascinating part, as the author goes into the psychology of how most people default to the truth when dealing with strangers. However, he does present us with the Holy Fool. This is the person who ranges from not trusting anyone to building a bunker in the basement because the government cannot be trusted.
In fact, Gladwell’s example is exactly the bunker-building, fully armed, and Kevlar-protected person. His name is Harry Markopolos, and he was the first—and for a long time, one of the very few—who caught onto Bernie Madoff and his pyramid scheme.
Unfortunately, no one believed that Madoff was a scammer until the damage was done.
Gladwell also takes apart the Amanda Knox case in Italy, and the Jerry Sandusky case, as well as torturing terrorists, which almost always fails.
This book was a Seaside Book Group choice at the Dana Point Library. While the group was split on the book, I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend this fascinating book, especially because Gladwell did his research and has numerous references and citations to back up his points.
The Seaside Book Group meets on the fourth Monday of every month at the Dana Point Library. For more information, please call 949.496.5517.
Dan DeNeve is a longtime employee of the Orange County Public Library. He currently works at the Dana Point Library as the Adult Services Librarian. He is an avid reader of history, biographies and sports.