The Best Strangers in the World

Books

Throughout his broadcasting career, journalist and host of NPR’s “All Things Considered” Ari Shapiro has made connections with people from all walks of life. In his sparkling memoir, The Best Strangers in the World: Stories From a Life Spent Listening, Shapiro intimately invites readers into his childhood and beyond to show them how his youthful curiosity and desire to learn have helped shape him into the person he is today.

Shapiro was born in Fargo, North Dakota, but when he was still a child, his family relocated to Portland, Oregon, where he embraced public speaking. As a teenager in Portland, he came out as gay and joined the city’s queer underground to nurture his sense of identity and community. Throughout the book, Shapiro explores his gay and Jewish identities and the surprising ways they have both affected and not affected his life. 

After recounting the unusual and almost magical story of his path to becoming a host on “All Things Considered,” Shapiro delves into his most fascinating experiences as a reporter, including an international incident in Ireland, a surprise interview with President Barack Obama aboard Air Force One and a chance to report on the war in Ukraine in 2014 and 2022. Along with these stories, he supplies some very entertaining vignettes about his side gig as a singer for the band Pink Martini.

However, Shapiro is at his best when he’s discussing the most poignant and personal moments in his life. “Happy Endings,” which describes his whirlwind 2004 wedding to his husband, Mike, and “The Other Man I Married,” about his best friend and former producer, Rich, are two of the strongest and most moving pieces in the collection. Full of emotion and wit, these essays remind readers how funny and heartbreaking, often in equal measure, life can be. They also emphasize that anyone can have impostor syndrome or feel scared to be authentic, even when they’re someone who has interviewed the president of the United States.

NPR listeners will especially appreciate this book as a trusty companion to “All Things Considered,” but you needn’t be an NPR listener to enjoy these essays. Personal and contemplative, but also funny and at times devastating, The Best Strangers in the World will instill a newfound appreciation for the hard work journalists do and a sense of awe for the scope of history they get to observe up close.

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