Free audio and e-books offer conflicting views on conflict

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Publisher offers free audio, e-books for the long, hot summer

At the risk of sounding like a huckster, this is a limited-time offer: Simon & Schuster is offering two titles as free e-books and audio books through July 31.

The offer was announced last month, so I downloaded both e-books on Kindle. At the time of the announcement, Audible was still charging one credit for the audiobooks, so I downloaded those on Apple Books. Audible has since caught up and is offering free downloads. Terms, conditions, and period of the offer will vary by vendor.

Let’s talk …

Let’s Talk About Hard Things: The Life-Changing Conversations that Connect Us is Anna Sale’s spinoff of lessons learned from her WNYC podcast “Death, Sex, and Money.” Sale, recently divorced, had pitched her producers with the idea for a program of conversations about difficult conversations. Seven years later, it was still going strong on public radio.

The program provides plenty of fodder for the book, which explores life lessons from difficult personal stories about death, sex, money, and bonus topics family and identity. Through each of these sections, she revisits her own personal stories as well as quoting or paraphrasing those of her guests and experts she has interviewed. In the audiobook, though, we do not hear the voices of these people as they might have been heard on the podcast. The audiobook is narrated by the author, who certainly has the radio chops for the job. But the net effect is that she is retelling other people’s stories, if and when she isn’t telling her own. That loses a bit of the personal connection.

The stories are many and long, and the life lessons few and short: Listen. Show you understand (even if you don’t). Offer observations that the other person doesn’t see. Make the relationship more important than the conflict. Recognize that sometimes there are no answers and no solutions.

Ultimately, uncomfortable conversations about having uncomfortable conversations can become… uncomfortable. I listened to the last half of the book at 1.5 speed to get the discomfort behind me. In the end, I did not feel better prepared to have difficult conversations, although I did appreciate the value of talking things through rather than keeping them bottled up.


This book gets three stars from this reviewer. It’s good of its kind as a self-help book, but the gets caught up in personal stories rather than useful insights.

High conflict

“High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out” by Amanda Ripley. (Photo credit: Simon & Schuster)

In “High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out,” Amanda Ripley explores the causes between large-scale conflicts of our time. She draws examples from Chicago gang warfare, small-town politics, and the civil war in Colombia, but the principles and lessons can apply to American politics, racial prejudice, the abortion debate, and other hot-button topics of our time.

In each case, she traces the histories of individuals who got caught up on one side or another, and what they did do extricate themselves. A gang leader becomes a gang-violence counselor. A divorce mediator who hopes to bring civility to his town government becomes an embroiled tyrant until he is voted out and seeks reconciliation. A guerrilla rebel accepts a path to citizenship offered by the government.

In one section of the book, Ripley accounts how a delegation from a liberal Jewish congregation in New York City initiated a cross-cultural exchange with conservative corrections officers in Michigan. This process, called “contact theory,” led to friendships and understanding–for a time. Ripley accompanied these groups on their visits and offers her own observations as a reporter.

Ripley is a bestselling author of “The Smartest Kids in the World” and “The Unthinkable.” She’s also a skilled narrator of this audiobook, which includes recorded clips from some of the central characters to give personality to their stories. A voice is worth a thousand words.

quick take

I give this book, and its audiobook version, five stars for its detailed personal accounts, clear explanations, and useful tips for conflict identification, analysis, and extrication.