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Talking to Strangers

What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know
Narrated by: Malcolm Gladwell
Length: 8 hrs and 42 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (15,124 ratings)

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A Conversation with Best-selling Author Malcolm Gladwell

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"What gets me deep down is Gladwell's optimistic tone throughout this exploration of how much we should trust strangers when the stakes are high."

Lee W., Audible Listener
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Our favorite moments from Talking to Strangers

  • Talking to Strangers
  • Default to Truth
  • Talking to Strangers
  • Transparency
  • Talking to Strangers
  • Coupling

About the Creator and Performer

Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian journalist, author, and podcaster. He is the host of the podcasts Revisionist History and Broken Record and co-founder of the audio production company Pushkin Industries. For his sixth audiobook, the #1 New York Times audio best-seller Talking to Strangers, he drew on real-life audio–including archival footage and clips from his own interviews—to incorporate the production techniques of a podcast into the audiobook format. It has been praised by Audible listeners as "a new era in audiobooks…and maybe in relating to others." He has also written and narrated The Tipping Point (2000); Blink (2005); Outliers (2008); and David and Goliath (2013), all of which are New York Times best-sellers. Gladwell’s books and articles often deal with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences, particularly sociology, psychology, and social psychology. He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2011 and has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996. He lives in New York.

Photographed by Celeste Sloman

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Enjoyable listen with some facts incorrect

I enjoyed listening to this audiobook.

I take issue with some of the passages in the section where he writes about me. I’m James Mitchell, the person who interrogated 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM). Some of what Gladwell writes confounds elements of different instances into unrelated events. These are factually incorrect, He could have cleared these up had he bothered to talk to me before he went to final print, but he didn’t. I won’t address those here.

More importantly, Gladwell implies that Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs) were (1) used to pressure KSM into “confessing” to attacks; and (2), that efforts to question KSM about future attacks were marred because KSM was being subjected to EITs when he provided information that the CIA used to disrupt plots and capture or kill terrorists still at large. But, those two things are inaccurate. I know it makes for a better story, but that’s just not what happened.

EITs were never used to pressure KSM to “confess” to anything…period…full stop. And, EITs were not—let me repeat— not being applied when KSM provided information that helped CIA prevent a second wave of 9/11 style catastrophic attacks on the West coast or aided in the capture terrorists still at large. I explain all this in my book (Enhanced Interrogation) which can be found on audible.

Finally, Gladwell makes much of KSM confessing in open court to a large variety of attacks and plots (including 9/11 and killing Daniel Pearl). Gladwell seems to be saying that KSM confessed to these things because, years after their brief use, the EITs compelled him to confess to things he didn’t actually do. To be clear, we did not discuss many of the things on KSM’s confessed list during his interrogations and debriefings. My guess is that if KSM confessed to crimes he didn’t commit, then it was to imbed his true crimes in a list of bogus plots in order to cast doubt on his confession later, should he need to or simply to mess with court proceedings. It is not necessary to evoke the boogie man of cognitive impairment to explain KSMs duplicitous behavior.

Readers interested in exploring this topic further should read the SSCI Minority Report dated June 20, 2014. That's the minority report, not the majority report.

1,527 of 1,630 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A new era in audio books...and maybe in relating to others

I am ruined forever on all the usual audiobooks. This was utterly fabulously produced, and now I shall expect all audiobooks to sound like fascinating podcasts ;) Ha! Really though, Malcolm has dramatically raised the bar on audiobooks.

Second, I just had a conversation in which my husband and I were talking about how complex people are....that sometimes things are not as they’d first seem. True to form, Malcolm sweeps us into a story about one thing, and then suddenly it is about something totally unexpected yet profoundly relevant in helping us see and understand the story (and characters in it) at hand.

This book has moved me toward working to hold a more gracious posture in my interactions with others and myself without sacrificing wisdom. I cannot forget the three interlocking realities he explores in this book: default to truth, the illusion of transparency, and coupling. If everyone in America could sit quietly with this information and truly consider it, we may perhaps create a kinder—and wiser— society. I’m recommending this to everyone. Although, some content is not intended for young ears. Parents be aware if you’re listening in the car with kiddos in the back.

219 of 236 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

This is a "should read"… Thought-provoking

I've been a member of audible since two months after its creation. This is only the second review I have ever posted with a library size numbering in the thousands and countless other books that I have returned; now I'll tell you why I am posting.

I have always enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell's books so I was a bit apprehensive because I had read a few notable book reviewers reviews on this most recent publication. Therefore my mindset going into the book was cautious tending towards a negative perspective.

I almost stopped reading after the first few chapters as I really could not buy into the perspective and underlying assumptions being posited. Nonetheless, I could not dismiss them out of hand and given Mr. Gladwell has been, for the most part, in his writing apolitical I pressed forward and glad I did.

By the time I ended the book I can say this, regardless of your political bend this should leave you with some thought-provoking questions about society, our governmental structures, and how we view one another. The sophomoric approaches pontificated by politicians offering some law that will resolve all things is "magical thinking". The currents social drumbeat to see others outside your circles ['strangers' as defined by Mr. Gladwell] as threats and believe we can discern their intentions and motivations better than they can themselves are factual states of being in our time.

'If you don't agree with me therefore you must be evil' mindset is not helping any of us to understand another. Given the thought-provoking postulates of this book I wonder if we would come together as a nation if faced with, God forbid, another 9/11 event as we once did just a short few years ago.

I hope you take the time to read the book. If you do decide to read the book I hope you'll set aside your own presuppositions and hear out Mr. Gladwell. I don't endorse all he has put forward but I applaud him for identifying and articulating clearly a problem we all face.

192 of 212 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Departs From Media Race Narrative

As usual Gladwell involves lots of deep thinking and self reflection.

He attempts to answer the: WHY. I say “attempts” because at the end you’re left with a really dark view of how we interact with strangers.

The media headline usually reads “another unarmed black man shot by police officer” which depending on your background means a) African Americas can’t comply with officers or b) officers are just randomly assassinating African Americans

Both notions ignore the circumstances and backgrounds of the end result. Police practices that worked well in Kansas City failed in other jurisdictions and essentially amount to harassment.

Gladwell attempts to explain the cultural human behavior that leads to misreading motivations.

I was left with the thinking that I need to try and understand others better but not really sure how to do it.

Talking to Strangers is a big ball of tangled yarn. After careful studying you can start to see the problem but you really have no idea where to start to unravel the mess we’ve created.

21 of 23 people found this review helpful

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There needs to be a warning about the content

I am so utterly disappointed with this book. I have thoroughly enjoyed the other Malcolm Gladwell books that I have read. however, this one crossed a line. I was not expecting to hear in such graphic detail about some of the testimonies in child molestation and rape cases. Why is there a description of a full-grown man inserting himself into a young boy?! how did that serve this book? I felt like this was more about shock factor and less about content. There could have been other ways to get to the fairly weak points he makes in this book.

I really wish I could have exchanged this book. It was so graphic and disturbing I could barely get through the parts that I did. Not at all what I was expecting. I was so caught off guard.

37 of 42 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars

Little practical content, not objective.

Not really an objective study, poorly supported, almost anecdotal. If you are looking to improve your communication skills or ability to read people, this book is of little value. Quite the opposite, the point of the author seems to be that you cannot.

The only selling point is the inclusion of sensational content involving Hitler, spies, and law enforcement. This is counter balanced, or enhanced, depending on your moral preference, by the inclusion of graphic rape and sex scenarios.

The juice is definitely not worth the squeeze in this case. Don't waste your time.

17 of 19 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

OK, but feels like it never gets to the point.

I bought this book thinking it was more like a how to guide in dealing with strangers, tips / techniques, etc.

The book is really a bunch of case studies spanning the last century. I kept waiting for a conclusion or a final chapter tying all the ideas presented throughout the book together but I feel like that never came.

It was still an interesting book and I don’t feel like I wasted my time, just really not what I was expecting.

189 of 221 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Good, Not Great

This book is full of fascinating and interesting cases, studies, and analyses, bookended by two ridiculous chapters. Mr. Gladwell spent a great deal of time developing theories and arguments, only to fall short of tying them together to prove his point. This is unfortunate. I was left disappointed with the lack of coherence between the meat of the book and the support for his thesis. Worth the read/listen for everything in the middle, but don’t expect that information to relate to the conclusion.

61 of 71 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

started off loving it, 2nd half was a chore

I love social science popularization, and the first few chapters were captivating. Really thought-provoking. But then this took a very disjointed jumpy Journey towards a clearly specified end goal. I was going for nonfiction, not opinion.

20 of 23 people found this review helpful

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Deeply disappointing

I started listening to MG years ago and found his books to be insightful, considerate and fair minded. The last book I listened to was a little disappointing because there were a few instances in which the continuity of his logical analysis was broken. This book just got worse. Maybe it is because I’ve listened to volumes more nonfiction since those first books or because I’ve now spent many years in scientific studies myself or because of formal instruction in literature review, and if I went back the same inconsistencies would be there in past books. Perhaps his analysis of a topic has gotten worse, I don’t know. In this book he tends to establish some premise (several times) that governs the interactions of strangers, citing researchers, landmark studies, and field experts, then he applies the premise unevenly to the topic, or even one sidedly. Moreover he applies landmark experimental findings to situations that they were never meant to define, this is logical fallacy. Experiments are highly specific, they are designed to test small ideas and eliminate as many confounding factors as possible, they cannot be so broadly applied. It’s dishonest and creates false conclusions or at very least un-validated conclusions. This book is rife with misapplied science and one sided or unbalanced applications of concepts.

72 of 85 people found this review helpful