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The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World

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When was the last time you spoke to a stranger? In our cities, we barely acknowledge one another on public transport, even as rates of loneliness skyrocket. Online, we carefully curate who we interact with. In our politics, we are increasingly consumed by a fear of people we've never met. But what if strangers, long believed to be the cause of many of our problems, were act When was the last time you spoke to a stranger? In our cities, we barely acknowledge one another on public transport, even as rates of loneliness skyrocket. Online, we carefully curate who we interact with. In our politics, we are increasingly consumed by a fear of people we've never met. But what if strangers, long believed to be the cause of many of our problems, were actually the solution? In The Power of Strangers, Joe Keohane discovers the surprising benefits that come from talking to strangers, examining how even passing interactions can enhance empathy, happiness and cognitive development, ease loneliness and isolation, and root us in the world, deepening our sense of belonging. Warm, witty, erudite and profound, this deeply researched book will make you reconsider how you perceive and approach strangers, showing you how talking to strangers isn't just not a way to live, it's a way to survive.


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When was the last time you spoke to a stranger? In our cities, we barely acknowledge one another on public transport, even as rates of loneliness skyrocket. Online, we carefully curate who we interact with. In our politics, we are increasingly consumed by a fear of people we've never met. But what if strangers, long believed to be the cause of many of our problems, were act When was the last time you spoke to a stranger? In our cities, we barely acknowledge one another on public transport, even as rates of loneliness skyrocket. Online, we carefully curate who we interact with. In our politics, we are increasingly consumed by a fear of people we've never met. But what if strangers, long believed to be the cause of many of our problems, were actually the solution? In The Power of Strangers, Joe Keohane discovers the surprising benefits that come from talking to strangers, examining how even passing interactions can enhance empathy, happiness and cognitive development, ease loneliness and isolation, and root us in the world, deepening our sense of belonging. Warm, witty, erudite and profound, this deeply researched book will make you reconsider how you perceive and approach strangers, showing you how talking to strangers isn't just not a way to live, it's a way to survive.

30 review for The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World

  1. 5 out of 5

    ✨ Anna ✨ | ReadAllNight

    Marked to read on 7/5/21 then saw review in The Economist 7/9/21.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    Keohane seems much more interested in speculating about the political consequences of talking to strangers, than in actually talking to strangers. I found this totally unconvincing, and would recommend instead Putnam's "Bowling Alone." There is lots of long-winded philosophizing, mostly to fill pages. Lots of uncritical quotes of unreproducible social science experiments run on undergraduate students. Surprisingly, there is *not* a lot of talking to strangers. Perhaps this is a consequence of wri Keohane seems much more interested in speculating about the political consequences of talking to strangers, than in actually talking to strangers. I found this totally unconvincing, and would recommend instead Putnam's "Bowling Alone." There is lots of long-winded philosophizing, mostly to fill pages. Lots of uncritical quotes of unreproducible social science experiments run on undergraduate students. Surprisingly, there is *not* a lot of talking to strangers. Perhaps this is a consequence of writing the book during the Covid pandemic? But then why isn't there more than a paper-thin discussion of online discussions? > “The religious communities constituted by Western religions are typically constituted by culturally different groups of people, who may be considered the same because they subscribe to the same creed. The religious communities of the Eastern traditions typically consist of constituencies of culturally similar people, who are prepared to let others adhere to different creeds.” > So, if Protestantism, income equality, low levels of crime and corruption, and low parasite threat are the key drivers of trust in strangers, then it comes as no surprise that the northern European countries are all on the top of the pile. The trust exhibited by these societies is so beneficial that experts have called it “Nordic gold.” > There actually appears to be an inverse correlation between generalized trust and what we—particularly Americans, but others as well—would construe as friendliness. … We have seen time and time again how friction makes us social. In efficient high-trust societies, friction is minimal. Central institutions handle the things that in less-well-functioning places often fall to individuals. In low-trust countries, however, people can’t rely on institutions to take care of them. They have to be more sociable—with friends and strangers alike—in order to get by. … “Although uninsulted southerners were, if anything, more polite than northerners, insulted southerners were much more aggressive than any other group,” Cohen and Nesbitt found. There’s a name for this link between politeness and violence: the paradox of politeness. > Mexico ranks higher in terms of simpatía than other Latin American countries. And she attributes this to the way in which they were conquered. In Latin American countries, as well as in the United States and Canada, the newcomers came and eradicated the native peoples. In Mexico, with notable exceptions like the Aztecs, many of the native people cooperated, in time blending their traditions with those of the Spanish, leading to hybrids like Mexico’s distinctive form of Catholicism. > the best conversational opener ever: When someone tells you what they do for a living, always respond, “That sounds really hard,” and watch what happens. … “How are you doing?” seldom if ever gets a real response. But something more specific like “How’s the day been?” does a little better. And my new go-to—“People behaving themselves?”—works great. It always gets a conspiratorial smile, and sometimes a story … Never just “thanks,” which would be to follow a script, always something more, like “Hey, thanks for doing that. I really appreciate it.” People seem taken aback, but pleasantly so. > ‘Every morning, say hello to everyone. Everyone. I don’t care who it is. Guy, girl, everyone. Make eye contact, and say good morning.’ … This next week, the people who say good morning back, say “How are you?”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chris Boutté

    I’m an introvert who struggled with social anxiety for a long time, but my isolation made me spiral into depression, and I eventually started self-medicating with substances. Since getting sober, I’ve realized how important it is that we make social connections. So, when I saw this book from Joe Keohane, I knew I had to check it out. Not only is this a fantastic book, but it was extremely uplifting. There are so many books on loneliness and polarization, which is why we need this book more than I’m an introvert who struggled with social anxiety for a long time, but my isolation made me spiral into depression, and I eventually started self-medicating with substances. Since getting sober, I’ve realized how important it is that we make social connections. So, when I saw this book from Joe Keohane, I knew I had to check it out. Not only is this a fantastic book, but it was extremely uplifting. There are so many books on loneliness and polarization, which is why we need this book more than ever. I’m still not great at talking to strangers, but Keohane sold me on the benefits of talking to strangers and how it can improve all of our lives. Keohane dives into all of the benefits of meeting strangers, and he even puts himself in a lot of uncomfortable situations to see if the research is legit. There are great people that Keohane interviews throughout the book, which was a great addition to the science behind the benefits of human connection. The author helps bust a bunch of myths around our fears of talking to strangers and showcases how this can help us live in a less polarized society. I can’t recommend this book enough and hope it reaches as many people as possible.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

    The Power of Strangers by Joe Keohane is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late June. In a call center, you could say that I talk to strangers every working hour of my day, but I think this book refers to casual or casually minded conversations with strangers in person, despite the more recent choice to avoid convers/confrontation out of fear, precaution, or thinking that it's mutually polite/comfortable to leave someone alone. With some nods toward evolutionary psychology, theology, anthropo The Power of Strangers by Joe Keohane is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late June. In a call center, you could say that I talk to strangers every working hour of my day, but I think this book refers to casual or casually minded conversations with strangers in person, despite the more recent choice to avoid convers/confrontation out of fear, precaution, or thinking that it's mutually polite/comfortable to leave someone alone. With some nods toward evolutionary psychology, theology, anthropology, animal behavior, and tribal mentalities, Keohane speaks of our habit of predetermining and catastropizing a social interaction before it happens as being a major human fault; to seek advice, a new perspective, while culturing a sense of curiosity and keeping sustained, attentive eye contact.

  5. 4 out of 5

    MIKE Watkins Jr.

    "And when you talk to people you don’t know, I tell them, you learn that everyone has a bit of gold; everyone has at least one thing to say that will surprise you, amuse you, horrify you, edify you. They tell you things, usually with minimal prodding, and sometimes those things can deepen you, and awaken you to the richness and the grace and even the pain of the human experience." This snippet of the book encapsulates the main premise that Joe brings out, this idea that the way we perceive strang "And when you talk to people you don’t know, I tell them, you learn that everyone has a bit of gold; everyone has at least one thing to say that will surprise you, amuse you, horrify you, edify you. They tell you things, usually with minimal prodding, and sometimes those things can deepen you, and awaken you to the richness and the grace and even the pain of the human experience." This snippet of the book encapsulates the main premise that Joe brings out, this idea that the way we perceive strangers in general...is not a reflection of how they actually are. Here are the results of one of the various experiments referenced in the book that brings this out: " people who talked to strangers reported a significantly more positive, enjoyable commute than those who didn’t. Conversations lasted an average of 14.2 minutes, and the talker came away with a positive impression of the strangers they’d talked to. " 1. The book also goes on to address why we hesitate to talk to strangers. This consisted of various reasons from...a feeling that we want to talk to strangers more than they want to talk to us, cultural differences, fear of the unknown, influence from the cultural "stranger danger" phenomenon, etc. Before I move on in this uh...review, I want to demonstrate the stranger danger phenonomon and how relevant it is via this portion from the book: "respondents are far more afraid of being killed by a stranger than by someone they know (29.7 percent to 21 percent), and far more afraid of being sexually assaulted by a stranger than by a familiar person (27.1 percent to 19.2 percent). Yet, as with crimes against children, the vast majority of murders and sexual assaults are committed not by strangers, but by people known to the victims. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016, 85 percent of murders in America were committed by people the victims knew. 2. There are various ways to overcome this hesitancy...one such way that really stuck out to me was the idea of finding a common connection. "According to the social psychologists who advanced the idea of mere belonging, Gregory Walton and Geoffrey Cohen, humans “are highly sensitive to even minor cues of social connection.” When we find some small similarity, it serves as “an entryway to a social relationship—a small cue of social connection to another person or group.” Humans have a powerful need to belong, so we look for what are called incidental similarities when we encounter strangers. These reassure us by signaling that we have something in common, that we belong together. 3. But one can only discover this common connection by sustaining a conversation. Joe mentions the 80/20 rule where the idea is to listen during 80% of the conversation and listen for 20% of it. I like to view it this way...imagine you're in a conversation with 5 people...if you speak 80% of the time that leaves 20% of the time to be allocated to 4 people. However, if you speak for 20% of this conversation...that leaves 80% to ideally be evenly distributed among 4 other people that embrace the same idea. Joe also presents this idea of a "triple consciousness". “What I want is for people to begin to learn that to be in a conversation, they need to maintain a kind of double consciousness, even a triple consciousness,” he says. “The consciousness of what the conversation is, the consciousness of what they want to say, and then the kind of meta-consciousness of Am I contributing to the process of this conversation in a good way? Or Am I being overbearing? Am I being irrelevant? Am I not trying to build? That’s the undercurrent.” Lastly, the "disclosure-reciprocity" effect is another way to go...it's the idea that if you share something personal the other person will match that level of personal exposure. There are various reasons for that...but one is that this displays a level of trust you have in the other person, to share something so personal with them. This prompts the other person to trust you in return. 4. Lastly, the book introduces this amazing idea that the society you grow in can dictate how open you are to engaging with strangers. "The reason why high trusters tend to be less gregarious is as simple as it is counterintuitive: They don’t have to be. We have seen time and time again how friction makes us social. Inefficient high-trust societies, friction is minimal. Central institutions handle the things that in less-well-functioning places often fall to individuals. In low-trust countries, however, people can’t rely on institutions to take care of them. They have to be more sociable—with friends and strangers alike—in order to get by. This friendliness isn’t driven by a love for all, but out of a need to cope with the chaos, instability, and threats affecting life in an unstable environment. The book after this proceeds to give a series of practical tips towards engaging with strangers, often told in personal stories Joe himself experienced. This section of the book was helpful at first...but after a while repetitive and not as interesting.

  6. 5 out of 5

    JaNel

    Didn’t finish Ch. 2 “Minimal social interactions… Never underestimate the power of even the most minute positive connections.… Smiling, making eye contact to establish a connection, and even having a brief conversation to have a stronger sense of belonging and improve mood,”

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I heard about this book while listening to an interview with the author, Joe Keohane, on NPR. He documented an experience similar to mine - talking to a stranger in NYC; my experience was in Dallas with a homeless man. Fascinating study of what it can mean to talk to strangers.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Scott Bartos

    Loved this extraordinarily timely book. The author blends a tremendous amount of research with light-hearted real world anecdotes of his quest to master the art of talking to strangers. As a similarly impatient city-dweller, the thought of purposely interacting with strangers sounds ludicrous and likely unhealthy. I couldn't get enough of the science that separates our ancestors (particularly the bonobo vs. chimpanzee dynamic) or the stories of the crazy, good-the-core people who are endeavoring Loved this extraordinarily timely book. The author blends a tremendous amount of research with light-hearted real world anecdotes of his quest to master the art of talking to strangers. As a similarly impatient city-dweller, the thought of purposely interacting with strangers sounds ludicrous and likely unhealthy. I couldn't get enough of the science that separates our ancestors (particularly the bonobo vs. chimpanzee dynamic) or the stories of the crazy, good-the-core people who are endeavoring to make people talk to each other in this increasingly polarized world. Plus the author routinely makes self-awareness an expectation of himself, taking pains to consider how the science, sociology and challenge of talking to strangers may play differently in some groups than others whether women, minorities, and primitive societies like the Finns. But it's not just research and solving the world's problems, there are lots of hilarious jokes, particularly in the footnotes (like the one about "Blondie"). Really fun and enlightening read. Recommended for anyone who lives in a city or gets their news from social media or just plain forgot how to talk with people in real life.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Shaaf Matin

    Great very informative. People need people. Stranger danger is mental poison. “What is a stranger except for a friend you have yet to meet.”

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tim Miles

    Very good book. Lots of history and explanations of how strangers have played an important role in building our civilization. I was expecting more techniques for conversations, but what was supplied definitely helps in future conversations.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anders Nielsen

    I had expected more practical tools, where there definitely are some. But big part of book is about cultural differences and all the reasons why we don't talk to strangers - or why we do. Good humor in the book, some really good tools I had expected more practical tools, where there definitely are some. But big part of book is about cultural differences and all the reasons why we don't talk to strangers - or why we do. Good humor in the book, some really good tools

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    The Power of Strangers by Joe Keohane is an inspiring book about connecting with those around us. Relationships with strangers, however brief, can help shape us and cultures. When I read the description, I knew I wanted to read this book. When I travel, I tend to seek out interactions with strangers, and find it incredibly fulfilling and inspiring. Though I adore these experiences, for some reason, this hasn’t translated as much in my daily interactions. Keohane explains why these interactions w The Power of Strangers by Joe Keohane is an inspiring book about connecting with those around us. Relationships with strangers, however brief, can help shape us and cultures. When I read the description, I knew I wanted to read this book. When I travel, I tend to seek out interactions with strangers, and find it incredibly fulfilling and inspiring. Though I adore these experiences, for some reason, this hasn’t translated as much in my daily interactions. Keohane explains why these interactions with strangers are so rewarding. He goes into a myriad of topics are covered relating to our interactions with strangers: the benefits, the fulfillment, cultural norms, history, etc. Where this book really soars is the descriptions of interactions when individuals engage with strangers. From persons who seek out these experiences to organizations that encourage it. I felt so much hope in our basic humanity reading The Power of Strangers. Though we lived in an age of polarization, people can still connect if we seek out meaningful interactions and are open. Keohane gives tips in order to help us break the script of shallow niceties to spur more engaging interactions. I loved how just tweaking what you say or asking pointed questions can turn a daily interaction into a deeper experience. I found the more academic chapters to be a little dry when he discussed the evolution of the interactions of strangers throughout history and the influence of religion. Though technology and social media are referenced throughout the text, I would have loved a designated chapter on the power of strangers online. I personally have fostered many fulfilling friendships with strangers online over the years. Overall, The Power of Strangers is a fascinating and inspiring book about human connection that has helped return some of my faith in humanity. I truly enjoyed this one! Thank you Random House and NetGalley for providing this ARC.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    This was a great thing to read a year and a half into a pandemic. The overall point was that interactions with strangers promote empathy and produce feelings of happiness and connection. It's dehumanizing (to yourself and others) not to engage with the people around you because it makes you start to think of people as objects. I especially liked the observation that you feel a weird sense of relief after talking to strangers--so true, although I had never noticed it before. This had lots of easy- This was a great thing to read a year and a half into a pandemic. The overall point was that interactions with strangers promote empathy and produce feelings of happiness and connection. It's dehumanizing (to yourself and others) not to engage with the people around you because it makes you start to think of people as objects. I especially liked the observation that you feel a weird sense of relief after talking to strangers--so true, although I had never noticed it before. This had lots of easy-to-implement ideas for incorporating this into your life: people watching, making eye contact, breaking the script in small talk, smiling, and expressing gratitude. As a librarian, I also liked the shout-out to public libraries as being places that encourage interactions with strangers.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sherrie

    ***I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway*** This book far exceeded my expectations and is one I'm going to be recommending to people for awhile. I love it when a fairly random Giveaway book is this surprisingly good. The author breaks down why we don't talk to strangers, why we should, and how we can do so in a straightforward, well researched manner. And when I say well researched, I'm serious. He covers history, evolution, neuroscience, sociology, religion, and a whole slew of other topics. H ***I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway*** This book far exceeded my expectations and is one I'm going to be recommending to people for awhile. I love it when a fairly random Giveaway book is this surprisingly good. The author breaks down why we don't talk to strangers, why we should, and how we can do so in a straightforward, well researched manner. And when I say well researched, I'm serious. He covers history, evolution, neuroscience, sociology, religion, and a whole slew of other topics. He references experts and ties their knowledge to individual scenarios and laypeople. I did not expect to learn as much from this book as I did. Overall, this was a great read about the importance of connection.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Saman Behbahani

    A great book. Well researched, thoughtful and really funny. A timely reminder of how simple interactions with our fellow humans can make life a better experience, and why. Once you read the book it's hard to go out into the world and not want to try his tips! A great book. Well researched, thoughtful and really funny. A timely reminder of how simple interactions with our fellow humans can make life a better experience, and why. Once you read the book it's hard to go out into the world and not want to try his tips!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Burt

    My local Barnes and Noble had a copy of Joe Keohane’s The Power of Strangers. I skimmed a few pages and liked what I saw, so I checked a copy out from my local library. (I got a nice, new copy - I guess I was the first one to check it out). After reading the book, I’m still puzzling over what to think about it. The Power of Strangers has some strong points. Keohane makes an excellent case for the value of talking to strangers. He discusses the many ways that we can benefit from stepping outside o My local Barnes and Noble had a copy of Joe Keohane’s The Power of Strangers. I skimmed a few pages and liked what I saw, so I checked a copy out from my local library. (I got a nice, new copy - I guess I was the first one to check it out). After reading the book, I’m still puzzling over what to think about it. The Power of Strangers has some strong points. Keohane makes an excellent case for the value of talking to strangers. He discusses the many ways that we can benefit from stepping outside our lives and into the lives of those who seem to be different. He also gives the reader some advice about how one can go about talking to strangers. (Although his advice is much shorter on specifics than one would guess, given the book’s title). For me, the book’s drawbacks are at least as weighty as its virtues. The biggest problem is that Keohane cannot focus. On the one hand, the publisher positions the book as a self-help discussion of building good conversations. But this material comprises a small part of what’s here. Keohane spends more time roaming far and wide, discussing (among other topics): apes, the Bible, and his life in New York City. The text runs to 301 pages. A good editor would have streamlined it to about 225 pages. Keohane injects too many of political opinions. He should have gotten out of the way and respected the reader’s ability to draw conclusions. Suffice to say, Keohane’s politics and passions are those of the contemporary left. For example, he recounts meeting New York City’s hard-left mayor Bill de Blasio in his favorite coffee shop and instructing de Blasio to “Give ‘em hell out there today” (p. 228). If you share Keohane’s views, you’ll probably enjoy his take. And if you don’t... For me, The Power of Strangers falls under the heading of “Glad I read it, but can’t give it a strong recommendation.” Joe Keohane provides some nice food for thought, but his lack of focus and unsubtle political commentary dilute the book’s impact.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tony Fitzpatrick

    This was a book with two key themes. The first was a simple "if we all talked to each other a bit more, the world would be a better place, and here are some ways you can do it". The second was more anthropological and philosophical and concerned concepts such as how societies, religions and cultures evolve, and the implications of many of the more recent phenomenon such as stranger danger education, and Trump inspired racial and political hatred in the US. A lot of this stuff made good sense and This was a book with two key themes. The first was a simple "if we all talked to each other a bit more, the world would be a better place, and here are some ways you can do it". The second was more anthropological and philosophical and concerned concepts such as how societies, religions and cultures evolve, and the implications of many of the more recent phenomenon such as stranger danger education, and Trump inspired racial and political hatred in the US. A lot of this stuff made good sense and was interesting, but a fair bit seemed to be padding - trying to make up the page count. Various theories about the implications of Covid related lockdowns also made their way into the book's 333 pages. I didn't come away with any fantastic new insights or ideas (which was encouraging in a way), other than a greater appreciation that loneliness was more endemic and a bigger problem that we realised, and we all have a role to play in addressing it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tom Brady

    Super repetitive. Talk to strangers and save yourself 300 pages.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Any book discussing talking to strangers seems to pique my interest. This was an average read compared to other conversation-focused books.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Priscilla Parker

  21. 4 out of 5

    Teri

  22. 4 out of 5

    Frank Dejak

  23. 4 out of 5

    Balliere Juliette

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mauricio Santoro

  25. 4 out of 5

    Luke Simonson

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

  27. 4 out of 5

    Linda King

  28. 4 out of 5

    Julie Huskey

  29. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Gribler

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