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

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

Joe Keohane. Random House, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-1-984855-77-0

Journalist Keohane debuts with a playful account of his “quest to master talking to strangers.” Enriching his own social experiments (including “the ultimate taboo of talking to people on mass transit”) with the findings of psychologists, sociologists, biologists, and theologians, Keohane unpacks the fear of rejection, notes the importance of eye contact, and details how social interaction promotes happiness. He also explores the origins and importance of hospitality, the treatment of strangers in Christianity and Islam, how smartphones and social media have “altered the character of public space,” and the modern phenomenon of “stranger danger.” Keohane lucidly explains the scientific and sociological research and shares practical advice on how to get past small talk (“just a door to a better conversation”), establish commonalities, listen closely, and bring a conversation to an end. Though charged topics such as prejudice and political polarization get raised, Keohane doesn’t fully acknowledge why members of historically marginalized groups might be less comfortable than a straight, white man with engaging a stranger on the subway. Still, his entertaining and well-informed musings will inspire readers to strike up more conversations. Agent: David Granger, Aevitas. (July)