07 November 2019, The Tablet

Malcolm Gladwell's latest book can enlighten and confuse

Malcolm Gladwell's latest book can enlighten and confuse

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know
(ALLEN LANE, 400 PP, £20)
Tablet bookshop price £18 • Tel 020 7799 4064

Like him or loathe him, Malcolm Gladwell (inset) is now firmly established as a public intellectual, sitting comfortably among the ranks of other modern-day seers such as Yuval Noah Harari or Jordan Peterson. Staff writer for The New Yorker and author of a series of best-selling titles such as Outliers and The Tipping Point, Gladwell’s particular brand of revisionism (for which, tune into his podcasts) holds great appeal for the secular imagination, proffering solutions to modern conundrums. I half wish the impossibly hip, softly-spoken Gladwell would come and sit at my kitchen table and tell me what to think. But then, I don’t.

Gladwell’s much anticipated Talking to Strangers asks us this: why are we so bad at the “act of translation” that takes place during encounters with strangers? Why, for example, do spies go undetected at the highest levels of the Pentagon? Why was Bernie Madoff allowed to get away with his Ponzi scheme for almost 10 years in plain sight of the financial regulation industry? Why did it take Penn State so long to prosecute paedophile Jerry Sandusky in the face of overwhelming evidence to support the claim?

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