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Talking to Strangers is not, as I believed, about how to strike up a conversation with strangers. Really, it’s about our innate “default to trust” and how we trust people too easily. The editorial copy says, “Something is very wrong, Gladwell argues, with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don't know. And because we don't know how to talk to strangers, we are inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a profound effect on our lives and our world.” This tendency to trust others has massive implications, as listeners learn while listening to the stories of Bernie Madoff, Amanda Knox, and in the book’s most uncomfortable sections, sexual predators such as Jerry Sandusky and Larry Nassar and their victims.

The audiobook, narrated by Gladwell, who won an Audie Award for his efforts, is heavily produced to the point of sounding like a radio documentary, complete with sound effects, music, audio snippets of, for example, the arrest of Sandra Bland, the Black woman who hung herself in her cell after being wrongfully arrested, or interviews Gladwell has done with people pertinent to various criminal cases. Court transcripts are brought to life with re-enactments.The result is a spellbinding, and often disturbing, exploration of how we misunderstand others, often with tragic results.

Gladwell is unflinching in his journalistic approach, but there is something about hearing about the assaults of young gymnasts, as opposed to reading about them, that is jarring. It should make us deeply uncomfortable, and it does. We listened on a road trip with our teenagers, and we had to shut it off because it was too graphic at times. In short, this is an unparalleled achievement in the audiobook genre (and a smash bestseller in audio form), but listeners must tune in at their own risk. (Audible)

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