Book Review: Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know

Should audiobooks listen like podcasts? 

I listened to the audiobook of Talking to Strangers, and this review, unlike my other reviews, is meant only as a review of the audiobook. Why do I say that? Well, this is an audiobook unlike any other I've read. 

Gladwell owns a podcasting company, Pushkin Industries, which produces a number of podcasts, including Gladwell's own called Revisionist History. At the beginning of this audiobook Gladwell says that it's his intent to meld the best of podcasting with the best of audiobooks. 

So, this book has it's own theme music, which plays at the beginning of each chapter. Not totally unique - other audiobooks use music, but in this case it feels as if the music is used to set off the chapters as if they were episodes in a podcast. 

Many audiobooks use a single narrator (which I prefer), while others use multiple narrators taking on the roles of different characters, almost like a play. But this is the first audiobook I've encountered where, as you might hear in a podcast, the author interviews people and you hear the actual interviews, as well as recreations of trial transcripts voiced by actors, and the actual audio from a police dashcam. 

In short this audiobook actually listens (I think that's the right word?) like a podcast. Depending on how you feel about podcasts, that could be a good thing or a bad thing. Despite being a huge fan of podcasts myself, I am also a fan of audiobooks, so was a little leery that this approach would work.

And I'm not sure it did. I liked the experience and I'm rating it accordingly, but in my mind's ear - so to speak - I just listened to a podcast, when I was expecting an audiobook. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm an old audiobook fuddy-duddy. All I can say is that there was a clash of expectations, and I have got to say that I'd prefer my audiobooks to be audiobooks, and not podcasts.

Distinctly Gladwellian

As to the actual content of the book? Broadly speaking this book is about strangers, and how we struggle to understand strangers, and in fact actively misunderstand them to our, and their detriment. But Gladwell being Gladwell there is a lot of research to be discussed - or rabbit holes to be gone down if you're not a fan of Gladwell's - to get to a conclusion. 

It's the conclusion that disappointed me. It's not the strongest conclusion he arrives at compared to his other books, and it didn't leave me with as many or quite as strong "aha" moments as his other books.

If you've read and liked any of Malcolm Gladwell's other books and somehow missed Talking to Strangers by all means pick it up - you'll likely enjoy the ride even if you end up a bit disappointed in the conclusion as I was. It may not be his best work, but it's certainly interesting and topical and done in a distinctly Gladwellian style.

If you've never read a Gladwell book you owe it to yourself to pick one up. Gladwell didn't become a five time New York Times bestselling author for nothing. He writes very clearly and engagingly and makes connections between ideas that give his readers "aha" moments. If you pick this one up, I can say that the audiobook is a good way to access this book. Just go into it expecting it to feel more like you're listening to a podcast.

Three and a Half Stars for ⭐⭐⭐🌠 Talking to Strangers.

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