Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell review – puzzled by banalities


This post is by Steven Poole from Books | The Guardian


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Are these lessons on ‘the stranger problem’ and how to engage with other people anything more than statements of the obvious?

Believe it or not, people aren’t totally transparent to one another. Liars can seem honest, spies can seem loyal, nervous people can seem guilty. People’s facial expressions are not a reliable guide to what they are thinking. Or, to put it in Hamlet’s words, one may smile, and smile, and be a villain. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

If any of this is surprising to you, then you are in exalted company, because it also surprises Malcolm Gladwell, whose job it is to be puzzled by banalities and then replace them, after a great pseudo-intellectual circumambulation, with banalities. Gladwell affects to find it baffling how we can get people we don’t know so wrong. So he calls it “the stranger problem”, and pretends that it explains everything.

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