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Friday, January 03, 2020

Review: Talking to Strangers

Talking to Strangers is Malcolm Gladwell's book about making sense of other people, and why we're so easily fooled. Written in his trademark, breezy style, it's a fast and easy read that nevertheless provides some color for some of the famous incidents you might have read about/heard about, while not providing any easy answers.

The story that Gladwell tells is that it's easy for people to fool us because there's a huge penalty for paranoia (the story of Harry Markopolos, who discovered that Bernie Madoff was a fraud but couldn't get the SEC to follow up on it is enlightening --- the poor guy got so paranoid that he ended up carrying a gun and becoming a recluse, convinced that everyone else was in cahoots with Madoff), while there's strong societal pressure to "go along to get along,."

The flip side of it is that if you don't conform to society's idea of how you should behave in certain circumstances (like Amanda Knox, whose roommate was murdered), then you're going to pay a penalty for not behaving that way and people will be suspicious of you no matter what, even if you're perfectly innocent.

Then Gladwell dives off into meandering themes: alcohol (Brock Turner), suicide (Sylvia Plath), and finally policing (Sandra Bland). Gladwell nicely avoids the nice and pat answers (such as the Paul Eckman micro-expression stuff which has by now been well and goodly debunked) and points out that people are so bad at judging facial expressions that a face to face interview is much worse than not meeting someone in person.

Well worth the short time you'll spending reading the book. Recommended.

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