Ingram Blog

Talking to Strangers

August 2019 Advance

Nicole Robinson-Hamilton Interviews Malcolm Gladwell


Gladwell is the author of five New York Times bestsellers, including Outliers, The Tipping Point, and Blink. Host of the Revisionist History podcast and a staff writer at The New Yorker, he was named one of the 100 most influential people by TIME magazine and one of Foreign Policy’s Top Global Thinkers. Robinson-Hamilton is a Lead Content Manager for Ingram Book Group.

Malcolm Gladwell has written a gripping guidebook for troubled times—a challenging and controversial excursion through history, psychology, and scandals taken straight from the news. Something is very wrong, he 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.

Ingram’s Own Nicole Robinson-Hamilton Meets with the Author to Chat About the Book

I was 45 minutes late to my interview with New York Times-bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell. Why was I 45 minutes late? I was Day Two into riding on the New York subway and made the rookie mistake of getting on the right train that was going in the wrong direction. Thankfully, a few days before, Gladwell’s assistant had emailed me his cell number. 

I remember calling my young adult and asking if it’s normal for people to hand out their personal number to a stranger. She said, “Yes, but don’t be weird.” Which means don’t call, just text.  So, when I realized my mistake, I texted the author to let him know what happened and that I was still on my way.  I receive a cheerful, “Ok!”  

This is kind of a good place to mention that I was headed to interview Gladwell to discuss his first book in six years, Talking to Strangers.  Many of us have followed his transition into the world of podcasts and were surprised by his decision to venture back into books.

That decision started w/ Sandra Bland, “an ordinary person who didn’t do anything wrong.” He wanted to take a closer look into her story and decided she needed more than a podcast. 

A podcast is 45 minutes, so could I tell her story in 45 minutes? No, I don’t think I can.

The whole thing is just so pointless, and somehow it affected me emotionally and made me think this was the most heartbreaking of them all.

You know them—Michael, Eric, Freddie, Philando…

But this isn’t a book about race relations. It’s about perception and communication. Our ability to trust a world leader, a spy, a financial investment advisor, or a college football coach because of their credentials, their perceived worth, their appearance, and their place in our cultural understanding. Add that to the difficulty we sometimes have bridging the unknown lead us down a path of folly and assumptions. He believes this book will get people talking.

One of the things I thought about a lot…one of the ways, reasons the book is structured the way it is. I was trying to make it easier for people to have these conversations. So, I made a deliberate decision to talk about Sandra Bland in nonracial terms. So, there is very little about race in it. Even though I thought race was a huge part of that story. But I think…you know what…it was probably more useful and more interesting to put that subject to the side and say that what’s going on here, goes on in other forms…I can give all the permutations…all of the things I run through in the book are all things, forms of some pretty fundamental issues that we have…we’re talking about human beings and their struggles with the unknown.

There are things in this book that will make us uncomfortable, and he knows that.

You can’t write about these kinds of subjects in a trivial way. There is no way to breezily write about Sandra Bland. You either want to get into it or you don’t.

I expect there may be a little bit of controversy. But I was very careful with it. I wanted to make it clear what I was and what I was not talking about. I want to prevent that thing from happening again. I’m not disputing where the blame lies in the specific case(s). I’m really talking about future cases.

Back to being late. Malcolm Gladwell is a stranger. I have read his other books, stood in lines, and taken pictures with him before.  But I don’t know him. And now I’m 45 minutes late. Is he still going to meet with me? Does he have another appointment? Is he annoyed? He wasn’t. He had jokes, his own subway story, and he gently chastised me just a bit.

Think if you had found a way to simply trust that I would be cool with you being late, then you would have spared yourself all of that anxiety.

He even pulled out some of his famous logic.

Weird thought, but I think it’s true. The cost of being late is very different than it was a generation ago. So, when you didn’t show up, what did I do? Just worked. Got out my computer. Got 45 minutes of work done.

So calm, so chill, so logical. His explanation?

I’m half-Jamaican, that’s why.

We posed for a new picture. This time in the downstairs hallway.    

Yep, the interview was in his home. It’s a selfie, not one taken by his publisher.

Who knew you could learn so much about someone in 45 minutes? Strangers no more…but I’m pretty sure he won’t remember my name.