Talking to Strangers Book Summary - Talking to Strangers Book explained in key points
Listen to the Intro
00:00

Talking to Strangers summary

What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know

3.9 (2601 ratings)
21 mins

Brief summary

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell is an investigative exploration of how we make sense of strangers. He uses multiple real-life examples to argue that we interpret strangers through biases that lead to misunderstandings and even tragedies.

Table of Contents

    Talking to Strangers
    Summary of 7 key ideas

    Audio & text in the Blinkist app
    Key idea 1 of 7

    We consistently overestimate our ability to judge strangers. 

    Solomon is a bail judge in New York State. His work comes with weighty responsibilities, which he takes seriously. He reads defendants’ files, of course, but he also knows how important it is to talk to them and look them in the eye. After all, a file won’t describe the glassy, dead-eyed stare that’s a sign of mental instability. It won’t reveal the shiftiness reflected in the failure to make eye contact. 

    Unfortunately, when it comes to assessing people, Solomon and his fellow judges fared worse than machines when this quality was tested against them. 

    In a 2017 study, Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan examined bail decisions in New York. He gave an artificial intelligence program the same basic information the judges had received – age and criminal record – and asked it who of the 554,689 defendants should receive bail. The result? The defendants released by judges in real life were 25 percent more likely to commit a crime while out on bail than those the computer would have selected. 

    Judges think they can evaluate strangers based on the look in their eyes and a conversation. In fact, we all think that! But we’re wildly overconfident about our ability to make character judgments based on this flimsy evidence.

    In a 2001 experiment, psychologist Emily Pronin asked a group of people to quickly fill in the missing letters in words like ‘GL_ _’ or ‘_ _ TER.’ Afterward, Pronin asked them to analyze what their word choices said about them. Most said that their choices were meaningless. Whether they’d written ‘glum’ or ‘glad’ didn’t reflect their personality or even their mood. 

    However, when Pronin showed the group lists completed by other people, everything changed. Clearly, this person was goal-oriented, the group decided, based on the words chosen. Another was obviously tired. While people were confident that their own word choices were random, they easily read into strangers’ word choices.

    Pronin’s research points to a simple truth. With the smallest glimmer of information, we judge people we don’t know at all. We’re confident in our own complexity, but strangers are easy. Well, if there’s one thing these blinks show us, it’s that they are not

    Want to see all full key ideas from Talking to Strangers?

    Key ideas in Talking to Strangers

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    What is Talking to Strangers about?

    Talking to Strangers (2019) is a powerful exploration of how little we know about the people we don’t know. It explores how we misjudge and misunderstand strangers, sometimes with terrible consequences, making a powerful case for more tolerance and patience in our dealings with others.

    In these blinks, you’ll learn

    • why real life is nothing like an episode of Friends;
    • how the look on our face when we are surprised is itself surprising; and
    • that artificial intelligence can assess a person’s character better than high court judges.

    Talking to Strangers Review

    Talking to Strangers (2019) is a thought-provoking exploration of how we interpret the intentions and behaviors of people we don't know. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Through compelling real-life stories and examples, it challenges our assumptions about how well we understand strangers, prompting us to rethink our interactions.
    • The book sheds light on the miscommunications and misunderstandings that can arise from our limited ability to accurately interpret others, providing valuable insights into human behavior.
    • With its engaging storytelling and fresh perspectives, this book presents a vibrant and captivating exploration of the complexities of human interaction, making it far from boring.

    Best quote from Talking to Strangers

    The issue with spies is not that there is something brilliant about them. It is that there is something wrong with us. 

    —Malcolm Gladwell
    example alt text

    Who should read Talking to Strangers?

    • City dwellers living in a crowd of strangers
    • Malcolm Gladwell fans
    • Those who think they’re a good judge of character

    About the Author

    Malcolm Gladwell is a renowned writer and thinker with five New York Times best sellers under his belt. The author of The Tipping Point and Outliers, Gladwell has been included in TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” list and is one of Foreign Policy’s top global thinkers. 

    Categories with Talking to Strangers

    Book summaries like Talking to Strangers

    People ❤️ Blinkist 
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    People also liked these summaries

    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    32 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    10+ years
    Experience igniting personal growth
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 7,500+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial

    Talking to Strangers FAQs 

    What is the main message of Talking to Strangers?

    The main message of Talking to Strangers is that we often misjudge others and misunderstand their intentions, leading to tragic consequences.

    How long does it take to read Talking to Strangers?

    The reading time for Talking to Strangers varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Talking to Strangers a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Talking to Strangers is a thought-provoking read that offers valuable insights into human behavior and the consequences of miscommunication. It's definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of Talking to Strangers?

    The author of Talking to Strangers is Malcolm Gladwell.

    What to read after Talking to Strangers?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Talking to Strangers, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Atomic Habits by James Clear
    • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
    • Super Human by Dave Asprey
    • The Fine Art Of Small Talk by Debra Fine
    • Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson
    • Stillness Is the Key by Ryan Holiday
    • How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes
    • Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
    • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
    • 12 Rules For Life by Jordan B. Peterson