Another Gladwell tour de force but perhaps his most disturbing.

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TALKING TO STRANGERS

WHAT WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE PEOPLE WE DON'T KNOW

The latest intellectually stimulating book from the acclaimed author.

Every few years, journalist Gladwell (David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, 2013, etc.) assembles serious scientific research on oddball yet relevant subjects and then writes a bestseller. Readers expecting another everything-you-think-you-know-is-wrong page-turner will not be disappointed, but they will also encounter some unsettling truths. The author begins with a few accounts of black Americans who died at the hands of police, using the incidents to show how most of us are incompetent at judging strangers. Countless psychological studies demonstrate that humans are terrible at detecting lying. Experts such as FBI agents don’t perform better. Judges interview suspects to determine if they deserve bail; they believe it helps, but the opposite is true. Computers, using only hard data, do much better. Many people had qualms about Bernie Madoff, but interviewers found him completely open and honest; “he was a sociopath dressed up as a mensch.” This, Gladwell emphasizes, is the transparency problem. We believe that someone’s demeanor reflects their thoughts and emotions, but it often doesn’t. Gladwell’s second bombshell is what he calls “default to truth.” It seems like a university president resigns in disgrace every few months for the same reason: They hear accusations of abusive behavior by an employee—e.g., Larry Nassar at Michigan State, Jerry Sandusky at Penn State—conduct an investigation, but then take no action, often claiming that they did not have enough evidence of deceit. Ultimately, everyone agrees that they were criminally negligent. Another example is CIA official James Angleton, who was convinced that there was a Soviet mole in the agency; his decades of suspicion and search ruined careers and crippled American intelligence. Gladwell emphasizes that society could not function if we did not give everyone the benefit of the doubt. “To assume the best of another is the trait that has created modern society,” he writes. “Those occasions when our trusting nature is violated are tragic. But the alternative—to abandon trust as a defense against predation and deception—is worse.”

Another Gladwell tour de force but perhaps his most disturbing.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-47852-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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