The Reading Room

Talking to Strangers

Malcolm Gladwell

Published: 2019, Little, Brown & Co.

Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Talking to Strangers’ sheds light on the breakdown of communication in the context of troubling social and political issues. It displays his skill of focusing on a particular subject, researching it thoroughly, and then weaving in other thoughts and themes that often appear tangential.

The book appears to refer to communication in its title but is in fact more about miscommunication. How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Chamberlain think he could trust Hitler? The thread that holds as you read the book and meander through its myriad stories is that humans tend to default to the truth – they generally take at face value what people tell them, even when good judgement would suggest otherwise, and their perception of truth is based on their life experiences.

The book starts and ends with an instance of miscommunication with tragic consequences. Gladwell analyses the aggressive policing tactics that indirectly led to the death of an African American woman, Sandra Bland, whose only fault was a minor traffic violation. The routine violation led to a hostile exchange between her and the police officer, after which Bland ended up in jail and, three days later committed suicide in her cell. All this over “stopping someone who should never have been stopped, drawing conclusions that never should have been drawn.” The premise behind this being that in troubled neighbourhoods there could be weapons or drugs in the car. Gladwell writes that this is what happens when a society does not know how to talk to strangers.

The author goes on to take you through a string of stories ranging from the crisis between Cuba and the United States and its fallout, to the story of Bernie Mandoff, the investor who ran the largest Ponzi scheme in history, and further on to the case of Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State University coach convicted of sexual abuse. These three stories, in particular, are based on the theories of psychologist, Tim Levine, who has done extensive research on why people are deceived by strangers.

With that said, in some cases a blanket conclusion of ‘failure to communicate’ may be an oversimplification. Past and present race biases and the Black Lives Matter movement have shown us that we cannot disregard other factors at play, particularly when looking at the Sandra Bland case. We would be wrong to attribute what transpired here purely to two strangers who do not know how to communicate with one another.

There are some examples in the book that come across a little farfetched, for example the use of an episode of the show ‘Friends’ to make a point about how we rely on people’s facial expressions when it comes to reading their inner most feelings, emotions and intentions. To use the expressions and interactions of Rachel, Chandler and the gang as a guide to actual human behavior could be seen as Gladwell sliding too far to the popular-end of “popular science” writing.

In spite of this, Gladwell’s overriding point throughout this book is very thought provoking; we do not know how to correctly talk to strangers and, as a result, are inviting conflict and misunderstanding into our lives in ways that have already had a profound effect in the past, and will likely have grave effect on the future as well.

How can we change our behaviour, and more importantly, should we? That is the real question. How can we correctly read people and trust strangers to act right by us? According to Gladwell, making sense of the stranger “requires humility and thoughtfulness and a willingness to look beyond [them], and take time and place and context into account”, something that is all too often ignored.

Aditee Bhalla
July 2021

The information contained above and in other entries in the Ocean Dial Book Review Series is intended for general information and entertainment purposes only, and should not be relied upon in making, or refraining from making, any investment decisions. No information provided herein should or can be taken to constitute any form of advice or recommendation as to the merits of any investment decision. You should take independent advice from a suitably qualified investment adviser before making any investment decisions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – And Why

Amanda Ripley

Published: 2009, Harmony

In life, some of us will have to make split-second choices to save ourselves and our families. How will we react? What will it feel like? Will we be heroes or victims?

In her quest to answer these questions, award-winning journalist Amanda Ripley traces human responses to some of recent history’s epic disasters.

Read more

Investing: The Last Liberal Art

Robert G. Hagstrom

Published: 2013, Columbia Business School Publishing

Robert G. Hagstrom is one of the best-known authors of investment books for general audiences. In this book, he explores basic and fundamental investing concepts in a range of fields outside of economics, including physics, biology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and literature.

Read more

What I Learned about Investing from Darwin

Pulak Prasad

Published: 2023, Columbia University Press

Pulak Prasad offers a philosophy of patient long-term investing based on an unexpected source: evolutionary biology. He draws key lessons from core Darwinian concepts, mixing vivid examples from the natural world with compelling stories of good and bad investing decisions—including his own

Read more



This website is provided by Ocean Dial Asset Management Limited, whose Registered Office is at 30 Coleman Street, London EC2R 5Al and Registered Number 05583807. Ocean Dial Asset Management Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (“the FCA”), with registered number 447424.

The information contained herein does not constitute a distribution, an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any securities in any jurisdiction in which such distribution or offer is not authorised. In particular, the information herein is not for distribution and does not constitute an offer to sell or the solicitation of any offer to buy any securities in the United States of America or to or for the benefit of any U.S. Person as such term is defined under the United States Securities Act of 1933, as amended.

No investments or services mentioned on this website are directed at U.S. Persons who are not Professional Clients or Eligible Counterparties as defined by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) Handbook or Qualified Purchasers as defined under the Investment Company Act of 1940. The information contained herein does not constitute a distribution, an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any securities in any jurisdiction in which such distribution or offer is not authorised.


ODAM does not manage money for retail clients. Eligible investors only may access ODAM’s expertise through the funds or investment companies for which it acts as investment manager.

This website is not directed at you if Ocean Dial Asset Management Limited (“ODAM”) is prohibited by any law of any jurisdiction from making the information on this site available to you, and is not intended for any use which would be contrary to local law or regulation. This website and its contents are not intended to sell services or products over the Internet, rather for Internet viewer convenience and information purposes.

Information displayed in this website contains material that may be interpreted by the relevant authorities in the country from where you are viewing the website as investment advertising or an offer to purchase securities. Accordingly the information on this website is only intended to be viewed by the persons who fall outside the scope of any law that seeks to regulate investment advertising in the country of your residence or in the country in which the website is being viewed. Users of this website are therefore assumed to have the knowledge and experience in business and financial matters to enable them to evaluate the merits of, and risks of, investing in the investment funds referred to in this website. Persons of any other description should not enter this website nor rely on any of the information contained therein. If you are uncertain about your position under the laws of the country in which the website is being viewed then you should seek clarification by obtaining legal advice from a lawyer practising in the country of your residence or in the country in which the website is being viewed before completing this question.

Risk warnings

Investments may fall as well as rise and investors may lose a substantial portion or even all of their investment. Past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance.

Investments denominated in foreign currencies can result in the risk of loss from currency movements as well as movements in the value, price or income derived from the investments themselves.

Investment in emerging markets involves risks which may not be typically associated with investing in more developed markets. Investment in small- and mid-cap stocks may also involve a higher degree of risk as these markets tend to be more volatile than their larger capitalisation counterparts.


To the extent permitted by relevant law and regulation, ODAM expressly disclaims any and all liability which may derive from this website or any other information provided by ODAM in connection with this website, and any errors therein or omissions therefrom. The description of the investment management services and processes provided by ODAM in this website is written in general terms. The services and investment funds referred to in this website should not be regarded as an offer nor solicitation for such services or investment funds in any jurisdiction where such offer or solicitation is unlawful. The terms and conditions applicable to individual investors investing in investment funds managed by ODAM are set out in each relevant fund’s offering document. This website contains information designed only to provide background material for determining whether or not to consider investment. This website should be read in conjunction with the relevant offering document for each fund. All potential investors must carefully read the offering document which will contain significant additional information needed to evaluate investment in the fund and important disclosures regarding risks, fees and expenses. The offering document is the sole document upon which potential investors should rely. Recipients in any doubt about the content of this website should seek advice from an independent professional adviser.

This website is based upon information that is considered to be reliable but ODAM does not represent or warrant that it is accurate or complete, nor should it be relied upon as such. Views and opinions expressed within this website including comments on sectors or individual stocks or companies are those of ODAM and its Mumbai based affiliated company Ocean Dial Asset Management India Private Limited (a company incorporated in the Republic of India) as at the date of publication. Subsequent events may cause these views to change. The investment policies and procedures described are guidelines and not rules. Occasional deviation from the parameters given may result.

Use of links
The ODAM website may contain links to websites operated by other parties. ODAM does not control the content or accuracy of information on such websites and does not in any way confirm or endorse the material placed on such sites. The links are provided for your reference only.

The copyright and all other rights in all of the material on this website are owned by the company listed on the web page or the material is included with the permission of the rights owner. You may review and copy material on this website for your own private or domestic use only. All other copying or use is prohibited.

Governing law
You agree that in the event of any dispute of any nature that may arise between you and ODAM, these terms and conditions shall be governed by and construed exclusively in accordance with the law of England and Wales and you agree to be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.

Privacy policy
Any personal information that you supply ODAM via the website and other means will be held in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation – please see our privacy notice for more details . If you would like to be removed from our database at any point, please email your request to

Use of cookies
For the purposes of gathering data to measure traffic and patterns of usage on our website, we need to use your IP-address. In addition, for example, we use cookies to ascertain as to whether you have agreed to our disclaimer.
A cookie is a small file held on your PC. If you do not want to accept cookies, you will need to alter the setting on your internet browser. We will not use your IP-address or any cookie to identify you personally.