Amanda Ripley

• NY Times Bestselling author of 'High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out', 'The Smartest Kids in the World' and 'The Unthinkable'

• Co-Host of the Slate podcast, How-To

Amanda Ripley is a New York Times bestselling author and an investigative journalist who writes about human behavior and change for the Atlantic, the Washington Post and other outlets. She is the author of High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out, The Smartest Kids in the World--and How They Got That Way and The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes, and Why, and she is the host of the Slate podcast How To!.

High Conflict (2021) describes what happens when regular conflict distills into a good-versus-evil kind of feud, the type with an "us" and a "them." In this state, the brain behaves differently, and the normal rules do not apply. High Conflict chronicles the journey of people who were trapped in very different kinds of conflict, from the personal to the political, and then found their way out.

The Smartest Kids in the World follows three American teenagers who spent one year far from home, attending public high school in the countries with the strongest education systems in the world. A New York Times bestseller, it was published in 15 countries and chosen by The Economist, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Amazon as one of the most notable books of the year. The Smartest Kids in the World was also turned into a documentary film by the same name. a

The Unthinkable chronicles the stories and wisdom of people who have survived disasters of all kinds--from hurricanes to terrorist attacks. It was published in 15 countries, turned into a PBS documentary and selected by Hudson Booksellers as one of the Top 10 Nonfiction Books of the year.

Exclusively represented by BrightSight Speakers bureau, Amanda’s recent Atlantic stories include a piece about the movement to fix TV news and another about the least politically prejudiced town in America. She’s also been investigating what journalists can do to revive curiosity in a time of outrage, in cooperation with the Solutions Journalism Network. Earlier in her career, Amanda spent a decade writing about human behavior for Time Magazine in New York, Washington, and Paris. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Politico, The Guardian and The Times of London. Her stories helped Time win two National Magazine Awards.

To discuss her writing, Amanda has appeared on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX News and NPR. She has spoken at the Pentagon, the U.S. Senate, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as dozens of conferences on leadership, communicating in conflict, disaster behavior and education. She currently lives in Washington, DC, with her family.

Speech topics

Breaking the Spell of High Conflict — A KEYNOTE PRESENTATION

Conflict, whether political or personal, can escalate and become toxic, as we keep seeing in the news, on social media, in politics. At this level, known as "high conflict," we start sorting the world into good and evil, us and them. Things become suddenly very clear. Our brains behave differently. We tend to exaggerate the differences between ourselves and the other political party or racial or religious group (or sibling or co-worker), without realizing we are doing it. We believe the other side cannot change, even when it can. Eventually, everyone suffers, to varying degrees. To try to understand how people get bewitched by high conflict--and how they get out--Amanda spent four years following a politician in California, a former gang leader in Chicago, a divided synagogue in New York City and other conflict survivors all over the world. She discovered that the secret is not to get out of conflict; conflict itself is essential, and it can be healthy and good. The key is to get out of high conflict. From the stories and the science of conflict, Amanda has identified the "fire-starter" forces that tend to cause high conflict--as well as the practical but counterintuitive rules of "good conflict." This work is surprising and ultimately hopeful, and it has transformed how Amanda operates as a journalist.

Building a Culture of Good Conflict — A 2-3HR INTERACTIVE WORKSHOP

As workplaces diversify and employees expect to be heard, and the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fast-changing, there is no escaping conflict. It’s a feature of modern life.

The only healthy option is to harness conflict. We have to get much smarter about how we fight. With this interactive, hands-on workshop, Amanda and her broadcast journalist colleague Hélène Biandudi Hofer help teams develop the practices and skills of Good Conflict. When people have the vocabulary, guard rails, and basic skills to investigate conflict with curiosity, it changes everything. We stop having the wrong fights with the wrong people--and start having the fight we most need to have.

But conflict fluency does not happen naturally. It has to be learned and practiced, so that it becomes second nature. The four-step Good Conflict methodology offers participants a new way to understand and navigate conflict, including mapping conflicts they have encountered--and investigating the understory of those conflicts systematically. By incorporating insights from neuroscience as well as the practices of conflict mediation, social psychology, and solutions journalism, we help people surface the hidden issues driving dysfunction; to move beyond slogans and tweets to a place where people can understand each other better--even as they continue to disagree.

The workshop includes:

  • Pre-workshop interview with leaders to understand their needs

  • Pre-workshop Good Conflict survey for participants

  • Optional advance reading material for participants

  • In-person half-to-full day event or two virtual trainings (three hours per virtual training session)

  • Post-workshop survey, analysis and debrief with leadership

  • Good Conflict online resource toolbox for future use

  • Optional post-workshop coaching or strategy sessions

More information about the workshop can be found here.

A Global Quest to Save America's Schools

How did other countries manage to make their public schools fairer and smarter than ours while spending dramatically less than we do? To find out, Amanda spent a year following three American high school students temporarily embedded in schools in Finland, Poland and South Korea. Through the students' stories and new research into education outcomes worldwide, Amanda helps unravel a mystery at the center of our global competitiveness. Her reporting led to the New York Times bestseller, The Smartest Kids in the World. In the end, Amanda returned home more optimistic than when she'd left--convinced that the U.S. can outperform the rest of the world, if we can sustain the political and public will.

Disaster Mythology – What really happens at the worst of times

Amanda Ripley draws on years of disaster reporting to explain the three phases most people go through in life-or-death experiences—and how we can learn to do better. She tells detailed stories of specific survivors from recent news-making calamities and combines their wisdom with the latest science into how the brain functions under extreme stress.

Presentation features: Case studies from the evacuation of the World Trade Center on 9/11, the 2004 tsunami and the 2009 crash of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River.


High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Smartest Kids in the World comes the first major book to use cutting-edge science and investigative reporting to explain the lure of malignant conflict in our private and public lives—and to reveal how we can escape it.


To find out how people can escape high conflict, Ripley takes us inside the lives of real people. She appeared on CBS Sunday Morning to talk about the book...

Watch the full video at

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way

Through the compelling stories of three American teenagers living abroad and attending the world’s top-notch public high schools, an investigative reporter explains how these systems cultivate the “smartest” kids on the planet.

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why

It lurks in the corner of our imagination, almost beyond our ability to see it: the possibility that a tear in the fabric of life could open up without warning, upending a house, a skyscraper, or a civilization.


What if Dear Abby were an investigative reporter? Each week, Amanda Ripley (bestselling author of High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out) takes on listeners’ toughest problems and, with the help of experts, finds the answers to questions you’ve always wanted to ask but couldn’t. Until now.

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