Malcolm Gladwell is a journalist, podcaster, and multi-bestselling author of such books as The Tipping PointOutliers, and David and Goliath. He’s a master of taking complex issues and presenting them in bite-sized, digestible dialogues. Gladwell is a man who will hand you a fast-food taco, divert your attention to a country singer performing metal covers, and then ask you how you feel about cultural appropriation. For fans of Gladwell’s writing, the newest addition to the catalog, Talking to Strangers, might feel a little different. That may be because, well, it is. 

Cover of Talking To Strangers, found on
Talking to Strangers|

The book is intended to be interactive; heard instead of just read. Gladwell has stated that his podcast, Revisionist History, heavily influences his most recent book. Both works strive to tell stories from multiple perspectives to explore the various ways we interpret and perceive people and events. If you’re engaging with the text exclusively, the more theatric elements throw the flow off-kilter from the expected Gladwellian formula. However, we’re living in an age of podcasts, streaming, and social media stories. In an audio-visual era where anyone can share their story, it just doesn’t make sense for Gladwell’s voice to be the only voice heard in a book about communication. This is where the audiobook has the advantage.

“Why would I describe it to you when I had the tape?” — Malcolm Gladwell

Entertainment Weekly. 10 Sept 2019.

It’s one thing to be told something; it’s another to experience it. Gladwell understands the effects of a bubbled society. To combat this, he effectively deploys soundbites, interview clips, music, and even reenactments of conversations interspersed throughout his narration to emotionally immerse the listener in a bit of discomfort.

It’s Not What You Said But How You Said It

For example, reading a description of a man hitting a table to emphasize his points tells you he’s passionate. Hearing the way he stamps his syllables, pauses after distinct words, and even, at times, stutters build a picture of someone frustrated and tired. Gladwell is stepping out of the essay and giving you a more rounded view of these people; how they talk, act, and think. He is cleverly letting his work speak for him. Listeners will experience a gut reaction in real-time and reflect on the “why” attached to it. That reflection is vital. Not only is it a sign of Gladwell’s potent presentation and writing, but it’s the crux of the subject matter at hand.

Malcolm Gladwell sitting with coffee.
Malcolm Gladwell| Rolling Stone (2013)

Gladwell needs his audience immersed because what he’s discussing is an emotional, complicated array of human experiences. Talking to Strangers identifies some of the most substantial hot-button news stories in recent history: Brock Turner‘s rape trial, Amanda Knox‘s international murder conviction, and the book’s central case study, Sandra Bland.

She was a 28-year-old African-American woman who was found hanged in her jail cell three days after being arrested during a pretextual traffic stop in 2015. Again, remember the tense relationship with reporting and the media that exists around the release of this book. A listener could instantly slip into their thoughts during a simple narration, especially when chapters are as long as Gladwell’s writing can be. By interactively presenting his work, however, Gladwell is challenging his audience to listen. To be present in the discussion. 

Gladwell’s ‘Talking To Strangers’ Opens A Window For Audiobooks

Audiobooks have allowed us to interact with literature while maintaining a busy schedule, which has already been an incredible achievement. Yet, they remain part of a competitive market for our time, which we’ll continue to value above most things. Like any other platform, audiobooks need to adapt and evolve to keep the user engaged, especially when the podcast nation has arrived and is gaining momentum. New media specializes in how to keep people instantly gratified, entertained as well as informed. What Malcolm Gladwell has provided is a brilliant strategy to keep books in the mix. It’s an exciting time for bookworms. Want a little taste of what Talking to Strangers has to offer? Gladwell released a chapter of the book as a bonus episode in season 4 of Revisionist History, listen here

Find Talking to Strangers on Audible and in stores now.