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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