Book Summary: Talking To Strangers Summary Malcolm Gladwell
Talking To Strangers Summary …What should we know about the people we don’t know
Talking To Strangers Summary
Introduction: “Step out of the car!”
Bland: I’m in my car, why do I have to put out my cigarette?
Encinia: Well, you can step on out now.
Bland: I don’t have to step out of my car.
Encinia: Step out of the car.
Bland: Why am I…
Encinia: Step out of the car!
Bland: No, you don’t have the right. No, you don’t have the right.
Encinia: Step out of the car.
Bland: You do not have the right. You do not have the right to do this.
Encinia: I do have the right, now step out or I will remove you.
Bland: I refuse to talk to you other than to identify myself. [crosstalk] I am
getting removed for a failure to signal?
Encinia: Step out or I will remove you. I’m giving you a lawful order. Get
out of the car now or I’m going to remove you.
Bland: And I’m calling my lawyer.
Talking To Strangers Summary
Part One: Spies and Diplomats: Two Puzzles
Chapter One: Fidel Castro’s Revenge
The supposedly meticulous Eastern Europe division, in fact, suffered one of
the worst breaches of the entire Cold War. Aldrich Ames, one of the agency’s
most senior officers responsible for Soviet counterintelligence, turned out to be
working for the Soviet Union. His betrayals led to the capture—and execution—
of countless American spies in Russia. El Alpinista knew him. Everyone who
was high up at the agency did. “I did not have a high opinion of him,” the
Mountain Climber said, “because I knew him to be a lazy drunkard.” But he and
his colleagues never suspected that Ames was a traitor. “It was unthinkable to
the old hands that one of our own could ever be beguiled by the other side the
way Ames was,” he said. “We were all just taken aback that one of our own
could betray us that way.”
The Mountain Climber was one of the most talented people at one of the most
sophisticated institutions in the world. Yet he’d been witness three times to
humiliating betrayal—first by Fidel Castro, then by the East Germans, and then,
at CIA headquarters itself, by a lazy drunk. And if the CIA’s best can be misled
so completely, so many times, then what of the rest of us?
Puzzle Number One: Why can’t we tell when the stranger in front of us is
lying to our face?
Talking To Strangers Summary
Chapter Two: Getting to Know der Führer
We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of
clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. We would never do that to
ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the
stranger is easy.
If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy.
Part Two: Default to Truth
Chapter Three: The Queen of Cuba
The simple truth, Levine argues, is that lie detection does not—cannot—work
the way we expect it to work. In the movies, the brilliant detective confronts the
subject and catches him, right then and there, in a lie. But in real life,
accumulating the amount of evidence necessary to overwhelm our doubts takes
time. You ask your husband if he is having an affair, and he says no, and you
believe him. Your default is that he is telling the truth. And whatever little
inconsistencies you spot in his story, you explain away. But three months later
you happen to notice an unusual hotel charge on his credit-card bill, and the
combination of that and the weeks of unexplained absences and mysterious
phone calls pushes you over the top. That’s how lies are detected
Chapter Four: The Holy Fool
Being deceived once in a while is not going to prevent us from passing on our
genes or seriously threaten the survival of the species. Efficient
communication, on the other hand, has huge implications for our survival.
The trade-off just isn’t much of a trade-off.
Chapter Five: Case Study: The Boy in the Shower
This is why people liked Graham Spanier. It’s why he had such a brilliant
career at Penn State. It’s why you and I would want to work for him. We want
Graham Spanier as our president—not Harry Markopolos, armed to the teeth,
waiting for a squad of government bureaucrats to burst through the front door.
This is the first of the ideas to keep in mind when considering the death of
Sandra Bland. We think we want our guardians to be alert to every suspicion. We
blame them when they default to truth. When we try to send people like Graham
Spanier to jail, we send a message to all of those in positions of authority about
the way we want them to make sense of strangers—without stopping to consider
the consequences of sending that message.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Part Three: Transparency
Chapter Six: The Friends Fallacy
. Our strategies for dealing with strangers are deeply flawed, but they are
also socially necessary. We need the criminal-justice system and the hiring
process and the selection of babysitters to be human. But the requirement of
humanity means that we have to tolerate an enormous amount of error. That is
the paradox of talking to strangers. We need to talk to them. But we’re terrible at
it—and, as we’ll see in the next two chapters, we’re not always honest with one
another about just how terrible at it we are
Chapter Seven: A (Short) Explanation of the Amanda Knox Case
“Her eyes didn’t seem to show any sadness, and I remember wondering if she
could have been involved,” one of Meredith Kercher’s friends said.
Amanda Knox heard years of this—perfect strangers pretending to know who
she was based on the expression on her face.
“There is no trace of me in the room where Meredith was murdered,” Knox
says, at the end of the Amanda Knox documentary. “But you’re trying to find the
answer in my eyes.…You’re looking at me. Why? These are my eyes. They’re
not objective evidence.”
Chapter Eight: Case Study: The Fraternity Party
The outcome of People v. Brock Turner brought a measure of justice to Emily
Doe. But so long as we refuse to acknowledge what alcohol does to the
interaction between strangers, that evening at Kappa Alpha will be repeated again. And again.
Part Four: Lessons
Chapter Nine: KSM: What Happens When the Stranger Is a Terrorist?
Whatever it is we are trying to find out about the strangers in our midst is not
robust. The “truth” about Amanda Knox or Jerry Sandusky or KSM is not some
hard and shiny object that can be extracted if only we dig deep enough and look
hard enough. The thing we want to learn about a stranger is fragile. If we tread
carelessly, it will crumple under our feet. And from that follows a second
cautionary note: we need to accept that the search to understand a stranger has
real limits. We will never know the whole truth. We have to be satisfied with
something short of that. The right way to talk to strangers is with caution and
humility. How many of the crises and controversies I have described would have
been prevented had we taken those lessons to heart?
Part Five: Coupling
Chapter Ten: Sylvia Plath
We overhear those two brilliant young poets in the bar at the Ritz, eagerly
exchanging stories about their first suicide attempts, and we say that these two
do not have long to live. Coupling teaches us the opposite. Don’t look at the
stranger and jump to conclusions. Look at the stranger’s world.
Chapter Eleven: Case Study: The Kansas City Experiments
Is something wrong with Israel’s deputy commissioner of police? Not at all.
Because his reaction is no different from the behavior of the highway patrol in
North Carolina, or the Golden Gate Bridge Authority, or the literary scholars
who speak confidently of Sylvia Plath’s doomed genius. There is something
about the idea of coupling—of the notion that a stranger’s behavior is tightly
connected to place and context—that eludes us. It leads us to misunderstand
some of our greatest poets, to be indifferent to the suicidal, and to send police
officers on senseless errands.
So what happens when a police officer carries that fundamental
misconception—and then you add to that the problems of default to truth and transparency?
You get Sandra Bland
Chapter Twelve: Sandra Bland
We should also accept the limits of our ability to decipher strangers. In the
interrogation of KSM, there were two sides. James Mitchell and his colleague
Bruce Jessen were driven by the desire to make KSM talk. On the other side,
Charles Morgan worried about the cost of forcing people to talk: what if in the
act of coercing a prisoner to open up, you damaged his memories and made what
he had to say less reliable? Morgan’s more-modest expectations are a good
model for the rest of us. There is no perfect mechanism for the CIA to uncover
spies in its midst, or for investors to spot schemers and frauds, or for any of the
rest of us to peer, clairvoyantly, inside the minds of those we do not know. What
is required of us is restraint and humility
And now Sandra Bland, who—at the end of the lengthy postmortem into that
fateful traffic stop on FM 1098—somehow becomes the villain of the story.
Renfro: Did you ever reflect back on your training at that point and think
about that you may have stopped a subject that just didn’t like police
officers? Did that ever occur to you?
Encinia: Yes sir.…That is a possibility, that she did not like police officers.
Because we do not know how to talk to strangers, what do we do when things
go awry with strangers? We blame the stranger.
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